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New convention center planned for near Southwest Rec

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Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 1:02 am

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce announced plans last week to bring a new convention center to the city.

The 52,000-square-foot center, estimated to cost more than $26 million, will soon stand at the western end of Hull Road off Southwest 34th Street. Developers hope to complete the facility by 2016.

Adrian Taylor, the vice president of Innovation Gainesville & Regional Initiatives, said the chamber has been entertaining the idea of a convention center for several years.

“We’re all about making Gainesville the hub of talent, innovation and opportunity, and that’s opportunity for everyone, for the academic community as well as the public,” Taylor said. “There would be more people going to shops, restaurants, the Harn … a cultural arts event or a sports event.”

Richard Secord, the Hilton UF Conference Center Gainesville’s director of sales and marketing, said the new center will mean more conference space.

“It will draw more and more business to the area and enable us to capture much larger groups,” Secord said.

Some UF students are looking forward to the center as well.

Lawrence Chan, the main events coordinator for SwampCon, said organizers would consider holding the UF Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels at the center because space in the Reitz Union is limited.

“SwampCon is looking for a feasible new place as it is,” the 20-year-old UF journalism junior said. “The Reitz extensions we use will be under construction next year.”

Diego Pinzon, a 20-year-old UF economics junior, said he thinks the center will help expand Gainesville’s influence.

“Everyone recognizes Gainesville just for the school. Maybe the convention center will open up new ventures ... drive intelligence and connections,” he said.

However, Roger Blair, chair of UF’s economics department, said he is skeptical about the center.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years; it’s not a tourist attraction,” he said.

He said there is not enough to do in Gainesville for visiting international or national guests attending conferences.

“Some of the claims of economic impact are grossly inflated ... whether that (economic improvement) is going to happen or not is certainly not a certainty,” Blair said.

[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 2/7/2014 under the headline "New convention center planned for near Southwest Rec"]

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