Luxury Hotel and Conference Center Planned for Tampa

Mar. 21--Developers of a planned high-tech conference center and luxury hotel at Tampa's port have a new neighbor that might not fit into their plans.

In October, Tampa port commissioners approved an agreement with Tampa International Technology Center LLC to build the $400-million project on public land just north of Tampa Port Authority headquarters.

The biggest critic of the decision was the port's second-biggest shipyard, International Ship Repair & Marine Services. International Ship leases part of the site. But under the deal, the Port Authority can't let the company keep using it after the lease expires in January.

International Ship's owner, however, may have turned the tables on the developers. In December, George Lorton bought property north of the project site for $12-million and, at least for now, intends to keep using it for his ship repair business.

Artist renderings show the conference center and hotel surrounded by lush landscaping with a gleaming cruise ship docked nearby. A gritty ship repair facility doesn't seem like the kind of view developers want for their high-end customers.

Lorton said he doesn't know if he'll use the property in Tampa's hot Channel District for ship repair for the long run. High-rise condos are a possibility. Maybe even the conference center developers might be interested.

"I'll be glad to discuss with them all the options," Lorton said.