Palm Beach's CityPlace, port projects to lure visitors

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NEW YORK -- Palm Beach County will build on its good reputation and attempt to expand its visitor base, Warren McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said at a press luncheon here.

Jupiter Lighthouse The long-awaited convention center now has all of its financing in place, he said. This will assure that sufficient operating funds will be available after it opens in late 2001.

The center, to cost about $52 million, will break ground in downtown West Palm Beach in late spring, and it will offer (tentatively) 265,000 square feet of space, including 100,000 square feet for exhibits.

Plans call for the convention center to be managed by the bureau or by a company that will be closely supervised by the bureau, according to McLaughlin. Having the bureau, which pledges a high level of service to meeting groups, oversee that service underscores its determination to follow through, he added.

An anchor hotel of up to 450 rooms is also planned, he said, with the opening planned for 2002, possibly earlier. Selection of a hotel management company is pending.

The convention center and hotel will be part of the $375 million, 77-acre CityPlace mixed use project, which will occupy both sides of Okeechobee Boulevard. Offices, restaurants, movie theaters, boutique shops and other retail establishments will lease space on the site. Ground was broken on the major section of CityPlace in mid-December.

Also part of CityPlace is the existing Kravis Center, West Palm Beach's major entertainment facility, noted for its celebrity performers, concerts, operas and shows.

Meanwhile, the Port of Palm Beach (on Singer Island) plans to construct a $12 million passenger terminal, broadening its capacity to handle the overflow from Port Everglades and the port of Miami, as a base for cruise ships sailing to the Caribbean. The new five-story terminal, 95-feet long, is set to open in summer 2000.

Two ships will be able to board passengers or offload them at the same time as there will be 40,000 square feet of interior space for passenger use, including U.S. Customs and Immigration facilities. In addition, parking for 1,000 cars will be on site.

From the terminal, there will be panoramic views of Palm Beach, the Intracoastal Waterway and the shipping lanes.

Two gambling ships that operate from the port's temporary terminal, are each making day cruises. They are the Contessa of Contessa International Cruise Line and the Palm Beach Princess, Palm Beach Cruise Line.

From time to time, larger ships such as the Radisson Diamond operate short cruises from the Port of Palm Beach or call there, according to a port official.

McLaughlin reported that West Palm Beach Airport will be able to handle nonstop wide-body jets bound for California, Europe or Latin America once a 10,000-foot long runaway is constructed, possibly as early as next winter. At this time, the facility's longest runway is 8,200-feet.

Once the Port of Palm Beach starts offering one-week cruises and the runway is lengthened, the long-term plans call for selling Europeans on two-week stays, with one week spent on land, the other at sea, McLaughlin said.

Because Palm Beach County currently lacks a major convention center, a modern cruise port and runways long enough for jumbo jets, visitor interests have been concentrating on what the local tourist plant could handle. That business consists largely of meeting groups and trade shows able to use hotels' meeting facilities, visitors looking for day cruises and traditional vacationers, many of them upscale.

Over the years, Palm Beach County suppliers have done a good job serving these sectors, McLaughlin said.

The county posted record visitor arrivals, resort tax collections and hotel occupancy levels for the year ending Sept. 30. Palm Beach County CVB. Phone: (800) 833-5733

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