Megan Padilla
Megan Padilla

On Jan. 9, Tampa will be the first city in the South to host the prestigious College Football Playoff championship game. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium, which will also be playing host to one of college football's major bowl games, the Outback Bowl, a week prior to that.

But as things stand today in the city, scoring a downtown hotel room for the NCAA championship showdown might be tougher than landing a ticket for the big game itself.

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission expects to need 61,000 hotel rooms for the week of the championship game, which is roughly three times more units than are available in all of Hillsborough County.

"Quite simply, we have a shortage of downtown inventory," said Patrick Harrison, chief marketing officer of Visit Tampa Bay. "There are more hotel rooms on Disney's property [in Orlando] than there are in Tampa."

What makes the city a viable host for such high-traffic events is its proximity to its Gulf Coast neighbors to the west, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

"That [61,000 rooms] is obviously way more than the 21,600 rooms that Hillsborough County can supply with its inventory that includes downtown Tampa," said Kevin Wiatrowski, Visit Tampa Bay spokesman. "Which is why we will work closely with our neighbors in Pinellas County [home to St. Pete and Clearwater] to provide visitors with rooms and the full Tampa Bay experience."

Tampa has done this before. Super Bowl XLIII was played at Raymond James in 2009, and in 2012, the Republican National Convention drew crowds to the Tampa Bay Times Forum downtown.

By comparison, "The 2012 Republican National Convention needed 89,000 hotel rooms, which also required us to coordinate closely with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater," said Wiatrowski. "An event like [the College Football Playoff championship] demonstrates what we can do as a community in terms of hosting large events, but it will also encourage the hotel industry to see downtown as an important place where they should be. All the nongame activities, the fan experience, will be centered on and around the River Walk. If you have a room downtown, you're golden. You'll be in the thick of it."

Help is on the way, though it won't be here in time for kickoff.

On Tampa's horizon is a Hyatt Centric, a 223-room hotel that will be a component of a $120 million downtown mixed-use tower being developed by HRI Properties. The project is expected to break ground in the third quarter of 2017. And Jeff Vinik, owner of the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning, is planning a 450-room convention hotel.

There are also two projects in the pipeline in the city's Westshore area, which is near the airport and only a few minutes' drive to downtown: an AC Hotel by Marriott, expected to open in 2017, and the area's first Kimpton, which is planned for 2018.

Hospitality challenges aside, the city sees the championship game as a tremendous opportunity to strut its stuff.

"It puts us on the map," Harrison said. "It's a perfect example to the warm sunny weather here in Tampa while viewers watch from cold climates. It's great for Florida tourism."


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