CLEARWATER BEACH - It's a relatively small project in the world of beachside construction.
But a major beach hotel's plans to build a 6,144-square-foot conference center could eventually help provide the city with more options for the downtown Harborview Center.
The city's community development board is expected to give builders the go-ahead today to construct a small conference center next to the Clearwater Beach Gulfview Resort.
The two-tower development, at 521 S Gulfview Blvd., is a little more than a quarter-mile north of the bridge to Sand Key.
Local officials say they don't know how much conference and convention space the city actually has. But they say Clearwater can always use more.
"Definitely, that's a sentiment we hear all the time," said Beth Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. "We're seeing more and more business travelers coming into the area and the space is essential."
The conference center is the second of the three-phase, $100-million Entrada project, which includes renovating the two-tower, 189-room Gulfview Resort; adding a conference center; and building a new 13-story tower, to be called the Entrada, that may include condominiums, depending on the market.
Renovations on the resort's northern building ended last summer, and the renovations on the southern building should be finished within a month or so, said developer Jeff Keierleber, president of Decade Properties. Once complete, construction will begin on the conference center.
"Anyone who sees it will really be impressed," Keierleber said.
He said once the conference center is complete, then he'd make a decision about when to start work on the Entrada tower.
This new conference center, along with two ballrooms set to open in late August at the Sandpearl Resort on Mandalay Avenue, will give the beach an extra 15,000 square feet of convention space.
"Any hotel that contributes convention space and allows the city to be more competitive in the convention market is great, because people are going to go to the conferences and then they're going to want to come back here on their own to visit, to take vacations with their families," City Manager Bill Horne said.
Additionally, Horne said, the extra space gives the city other options about what to do with the Harborview Center downtown.
The former department store, which includes a 65,000-square-foot convention center, was bought by the city in the early 1990s with the hope of making a profit.
It hasn't done that, and last year the city spent $342,000 subsidizing the center.
Last month, the City Council told the city manager's office to begin looking for better ways to use the building.
Local leaders say the development community is interested in the building, mostly because of its location on the bluff.
Local officials say they do not want to see residential development on the property.
Further, council members say, they'd like to see whatever is developed there incorporated into nearby Coachman Park.