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Developer Proposes Conference Center West of UF

Developer Proposes Conference Center West of UF

A developer with a corporate history of more than 125 years and a portfolio of high-quality projects in both the United States and Latin America is creating a mixed-use development known as West 38th behind the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center.

While construction of the first phase of the project, which includes off-campus student housing and approximately $10 million worth of infrastructure, is progressing, the developer is working with Alachua County and City of Gainesville officials to develop a partnership that will expand the project to include a 50,000 square-foot conference and cultural arts center.

“We’re excited about investing in Gainesville, and we see the potential for bringing to reality the long-desired conference and cultural arts center,” said Brent Reynolds, president and managing partner of NP International. “We started with a blank canvas, and we’re putting our best foot forward to complement the growing community.”

Developer NP International has proposed building a conference center (concept plan developed by New York-based Gensler on right) as an addition to a proposed new hotel west of the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center. The company is already building the first phase of student housing, which will be operated by Campus Crest.

Along with the established Hilton space, the proposed conference center would bring the total square footage of meeting room space in the area to 75,000 square feet — effectively tripling the event space currently offered at the Hilton.

The proposed conference center would exceed the size recommended by consultants in a 2010 market analysis conducted for the city by PKF Consulting and Global Spectrum. The analysis concluded that enough market demand existed to justify an additional 250-room hotel with at least 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.

The project could generate $22.5 million in annual direct spending, according to Global Spectrum, and, as noted by former City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, it would also create 300 jobs.

“This new project is going to be a community asset that will provide jobs and other economic benefits,” said Henry, who is a member of the Convention Champions Group, formed by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Two years ago, two companies responded to the city’s request for projects to place a hotel and conference center downtown, but the city commission didn’t move forward, instead saying that the developers wanted too much city investment.

Reynolds, the leader of the new project, declined to comment on the amount of city or county support his company would need to make the project viable.

Local governments across the country often devote bed taxes, which are paid by hotel guests, and other money to convention centers based on the potential economic impact of the projects.

Regardless of the potential convention center, NP International and its partner, The Garrison Investment Group, are committed to the following:

  • Developing a 64-acre mixed-use project
  • Building approximately 236 units of upscale student housing in the first phase of the project
  • Constructing a hotel with at least 134 rooms and suites
  • Creating more than 40 acres of city-owned protected wetland area
  • Building an extension of the Archer Braid rail through the property
  • Providing additional park-and-ride space on UF property next to the UF Health Florida Surgical Center, which adjoins the development
  • Supporting stores and community activities on the property
    The Convention Champions Group, formed by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, tours the site of the proposed conference center. Student housing already is under construction, as seen in the background.

“The conservation area given to the city is a demonstration of the developer’s willingness to partner with our community to maintain or improve the overall quality of life in a growing area of our community,” said Adrian Taylor, vice president of Innovation Gainesville and regional initiatives for the Chamber.

NP International has main offices in Minnesota, Miami and Costa Rica, and Garrison is headquartered in New York City.

The Gainesville project is in keeping with NP International’s commitment to high-quality projects in dynamic areas, Reynolds said, noting that, “Our philosophy is to only build products in which we would live, work or visit.”

The development is close to UF’s Cultural Plaza — which includes the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History — as well as the expansion area for Butler Plaza.

“Gainesville is a highly motivated community that is a destination for business growth,” Reynolds said. “Our project is located in the heart, between high-end retail, UF and interstate access.”

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According to John Pricher, interim director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, a new conference center needs to have at least one meeting space that’s larger than any current venue

“It needs to change the landscape,” he said.

The largest ballrooms at both the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Conference Center are less than 7,000 square feet — capable of accommodating 350 people for a dinner.

According to Pricher, conferences and trade shows that require more space have previously gone elsewhere, including events sponsored by various units of the University of Florida.

“I’m sure that a conference center with larger space would be in the running for some of the events that UF would want to bring back here,” he said.

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