Wimauma Convention Center

RobFowler


The other day I had a meeting in Brandon. I often take I-75 South to I-275 and come across the Skyway on my way back as the drive is much more relaxing and smoother than driving through Tampa during high traffic times. Even though farther by a few miles, it takes the same time or less. I've made this trip many times both ways. One thing that always gets a smile or chuckle out of me is the State sign on I-75 as you approach the Sun City Center exit that says, "Wimauma Convention Center." Now if you have ever been to Wimauma you understand the humor of that sign. Wimauma is, for the most part, a very small town just east of Sun City Center that is primarily home to migrant workers. If you look carefully for the Wimauma Convention Center, you'll find "The Church of God Wimauma Convention Center." To my knowledge they have never had a convention there, at least outside of Church of God activities anyway. They have no website and the only phone number you can find online is disconnected. Wimauma is not a town that could even support a small convention. How they got the State to put up a sign on I-75 is a mystery to me. How many tens of thousands of drivers see that sign every day? The last time I saw the sign it got me thinking. Conventions and conferences are big money in the Tampa Bay Area. Every decent resort or large hotel has conference rooms and they bring in quite a bit of money. Many of these conferences are relatively small one day events, so the attendees do not necessarily rent rooms to stay over, they just drive from around the Tampa Bay Area to attend the conference and then go home. Speakers and regional/national executives may stay over, but the single day attendees probably commute from home. We could definitely host single day conferences or small conventions that serve the Tampa Bay Area. Visualize this: Opening Ceremonies at the Catherine Hickman Theater - 8:30 am Industry and Trade vendors could be set up with booths at the Casino - 10:00 am through 6:00 pm. Training Seminars, breakout sessions, and lectures throughout the day could be held at the Catherine Hickman Theater, Scout Hall, and possibly the Gulfport Recreation Center. Closing ceremonies at the Catherine Hickman Theater at 7:00 pm. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and after hours socializing could be at any number of our fantastic dining establishments. A high-end small convention or quality conference may even include vouchers from various restaurants in Gulfport as part of the attendees registration fee providing guaranteed income for our restaurants. Speakers and traveling executives could stay at the sea Breeze Manor B&B or at the Historic Peninsula Inn. All of the venues are within walking distance, but the Gulfport Trolley could run a route providing transportation from one to the other. With a little planning, Gulfport could become one of the options for the thousands of conferences that happen in the Tampa Bay Area every year. Our unique atmosphere, interesting shops and restaurants, the water front, and other features would make us inviting to a lot of industries as a conference host. A huge benefit for our town is that the 300 to 500 attendees would be a captive audience. It's not like they'd come into town to dance on hour or so and leave without spending a dime. They'd be eating meals and walking our streets for maybe 8 to 10 hours. How many would come back to visit and bring their families and friends? There is talk during the mayor election about how to bring in businesses to Gulfport. Remember that restaurants and small locally owned retail shops are only a very small slice of the business pie. 49th Street South and Gulfport Blvd. would be great locations for an incredible variety of businesses and industries. By bringing Tampa Bay business people into Gulfport we could be inviting new profitable businesses to at least consider what we have to offer. Feed your brain on this: We change the name of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom to Gulfport Casino Ballroom and Convention Center. Just the name change creates a new image for Gulfport and what we have to offer attracting a huge potential for income and a boost to our economy. Maybe the State would put a sign on I-275 that says, "Gulfport Casino Ballroom and Convention Center."