. Tampa Bay | Northstar Meetings Group

Guide to Meeting & Event Planning in

Tampa Bay

Learn why you should host your next meeting, event or conference in Tampa. 

Why Tampa for Your Next Meeting or Event? 

With its vibrant waterfront, urban cool and year-round balmy climate, it’s easy to see why Tampa Bay is a hit with groups. 

Only in Tampa Bay

Travel Essentials
Taxes. Room tax, 5%; sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12%. As of January 2018, properties in downtown and Ybor City charge an additional $1.50 tourism-marketing district fee per night.
 
Convention Center. Tampa Convention Center; exhibit space, approximately 200,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 40; (813) 274-8511
 
CVB. Visit Tampa Bay,  (813) 223-111 or (800) 448-2672

A wealth of new accommodations and venues — 1,500 new hotel rooms, 18 additional meeting rooms at the Tampa Convention Center, and a vibrant new entertainment, dining and development — add to Tampa Bay's array of group offerings.

Airport and Airlift Update

Tampa International Airport has launched the country’s first airport testing pilot that will offer two types of FDA-approved COVID-19 tests for all departing and arriving passengers. The facility has also launched its robust TPA Ready plan to keep travelers safe.

The airport was ranked second among large airports in North America by J.D. Power’s 2020 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

In other news, the airport is growing, with a $2 billion expansion and renovation project underway. The phase-one work included road work, a new 1.4-mile SkyConnect people mover, an expansion of the main terminal, a new rental car center and the addition of several local restaurants to the dining options. Phase two includes a 17-acre commercial development with a hotel and curbside expansion work. A third phase will see the addition of a new 16-gate terminal. Read more here.

The airport is also adding a number of enhancements, including a water-bottle filling stations, nursing rooms, and service animal relief areas. The filling stations will replace the drinking fountains in airsides (as terminals are called at this airport) A, C, E and F. Airsides A and E will each get a nursing room, with plans calling for identical additions in the main terminal and, as part of a future restroom renovation, in airside C. All nursing rooms will feature comfortable seating, baby changing stations, sinks and power outlets. The new service animal areas will be located on elevated decks just outside airsides A, C, E and F and the main terminal.

Transportation in & Around the Area

Tampa International Airport, about six miles to downtown Tampa Bay. Transfer cost by taxi, $25; the airport is also served by Uber and Lyft.

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Meeting and Event Venues

New & Coming Soon to Tampa

Tampa Bay is welcoming meetings back with expansions, upgrades and new safety and cleaning protocols, and carefully thought-out spacing. The destination's hotels have implemented new standards of cleanliness to ensure the safety of visitors by adding mobile check-in, enhanced hospital-grade cleaning protocols, and PPE for staff. Following are Visit Tampa Bay's latest updates, sources and news for planners:

  • Visit Tampa Bay has added a Tampa Bay Prepared web page that details steps being taken at Tampa International Airport, the Tampa Convention Center, area hotels and other venues to ensure safe, productive meetings post-COVID. Planners can also view a video to see these protocols, procedures and precautions in action at the Tampa Convention Center.

  • Visit Tampa Bay has launched "On the Horizon," a new video series highlighting the destination's most anticipated upcoming  hotels, attractions, and restaurants. The series kicked off with an update on the development of Casa Santo Stefano, the brainchild of Richard Gonzmart, fourth-generation owner of Columbia Restaurant Group. Housed in a former 1925 Ybor City macaroni factory, the restaurant pays tribute to the food Gonzmart ate every Sunday at his best friend's Sicilian household and homage to the wave of Sicilian immigrants who helped build the Tampa and Ybor City community after arriving in the U.S.

  • Learn about the destination’s diversity and adventurous spirit in a new video from Visit Tampa Bay. Another video produced by the CVB, “We Are Tampa Bay…We Are Tourism Strong,” offers messages from Visit Tampa Bay’s tourism partners, including hotel operators, restaurant operators, and attractions. The CVB has several other new offerings: a “Tampa L.I.V.E.: Learning and Interacting Virtually With Expedia”  webcast, is available on demand; a diversity page with information about minority-owned planner resources, including restaurants, transportation services and more and a toolkit to help local businesses reopen safely after closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  •  Visit Tampa Bay celebrates outstanding members of the region’s tourism industry with its Memory Maker video series. Many of the individuals spotlighted work on the front lines and have a direct impact on visitors’ experience in the destination, while others work behind the scenes. The most recent video in the series, an up-close visit with Mike Conlee of Tampa’s Urban Kai Stand Up Paddle Board Shop, can be viewed here.

• The Tampa Convention Center is adding 18 new meeting rooms overlooking the Hillsborough River; the center recently completed upgrades to its breakout rooms and ballrooms. The center has also initiated a number of health and safety protocols including thermal screenings upon entry, physically distanced room sets, hand-sanitizing stations, frequent touch point cleaning, and food & beverage service safety measures.

• The 178-room Hotel Haya has debuted in Ybor City. The boutique property offers 7,300 square feet of meeting space, including 6,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and 1,300 square feet of outdoor space. The hotel has two restaurants, a bar and lounge.

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• Castlerock Asset Management has acquired the 244-room Westin Tampa Bay. The company plans upgrades to the property, which has eight meeting rooms, by late 2020. 

• The Yuengling Brewing Co. will build a hotel near its headquarters in Tampa, as part of an extensive expansion of its grounds. Along with the hotel, th plans call for a restaurant, concert pavilion, gift shop and outdoor beer garden will be built on the the grounds. The project is slated to debut in 2022.

• A dual-branded Hyatt property will open in downtown Tampa in 2020. The 17-story project includes a 230-room Hyatt Place and a 115-room Hyatt House; they will share  4,000 square feet of meeting space, 3,200 square feet of retail space and a 220-space parking garage. The hotels will be located across from Tampa City Hall with easy access to the downtown area, the Tampa Convention Center and neighboring Riverwalk attractions, such as the Florida Aquarium and Amalie Arena.

• Set to open in late 2020, the 519-room JW Marriott Tampa Water Street will add greatly to the room product available across the street from the Tampa Convention Center. The five-star property will include 126,000 square feet of meeting space and the city’s highest rooftop bar, with dramatic views of downtown and Tampa Bay.
 
• The five-star, 172-room Tampa Edition will be co-located with the JW Marriott as part of the massive Water Street Tampa project’s 26-story tower. It will open in 2021 across the street from Amelie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning ice-hockey team. 

• Marriott’s new 175-room AC Hotel Tampa Airport is in the West Shore District, near International Plaza’s upscale shopping and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium and, of course, Tampa International Airport. The hotel has four flexible meeting rooms with a total of 2,400 square feet of space.
 
• The Westin Harbour Island underwent an $18 million renovation and is now the 309-room Westin Tampa Waterside with a new waterfront restaurant, Blue Harbour, and 18,032 square feet of flexible meeting space, all just a few blocks from the Tampa Convention Center.
 
• A $50 million renovation to downtown’s largest hotel, the 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, is complete. The property, which has been renamed Tampa Marriott Water Street has a new dining spot by acclaimed chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, the Garrison Tavern. The craft kitchen and social house features American fare created to complement the 20 locally crafted delights on tap, including Garrison Kolsch, a signature brew created in partnership with Tampa’s Coppertail Brewing Co. The 265-seat tavern is a sports fan’s dream: Two large media walls with nine screens each and more than 35 individual TVs are spread throughout the venue, all broadcasting sporting events around` the clock, and there’s an on-site Topgolf Swing Suite with two bays.
 
• The newly renovated 277-room Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel features 12,500 square feet of meeting and event space, as well as an ideal location on the Riverwalk and just a few blocks from the Tampa Convention Center.

• The Tampa Midtown’s $500 million development, with 1.8 million square feet of new retail, entertainment and hospitality spaces, connects the vibrant Westshore district with the downtown Convention District. The Hall at Midtown — from Tampa Bay’s Hall on Franklin founder Jamal Wilson — is scheduled to debut in early 2021. The mixed-used development will include an 8,000-square-foot food hall, where guests can order in a mix-and-match format from seven different eateries. Other features of the hall will include a private dining room and kitchen for group events, a 1,200-square-foot patio space with indoor and outdoor bar areas and a digital golf driving lane. 

• Safe reopening and innovation are the watchwords when it comes to Tampa Bay’s attractions. Busch Gardens Tampa BayZoo Tampa at Lowry ParkTampa Museum of Art and many other venues are welcoming visitors. All follow requirements and guidelines set by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Public Health. Check out the most up-to-date information on state measures and guidelines here.

• The Florida Aquarium has implemented new health and safety initiatives have been implemented at the attraction, including attendance limits that support physical distancing, touchless transactions, and enhanced cleaning protocols. Staff wear masks at all times, and tickets to enter the aquarium must be purchased in advance. Situated near Tampa Bay’s Convention District, the aquarium can host groups of 250 to 4,000 people for off-site events. Individual event spaces include the Coral Reef Gallery, which can accommodate up to  200 attendees, the Mosaic Center & Rooftop, which can host up to 650 attendees and the Vinik Channelside room, for up to 125 guests.

• Sparkman Wharf, an outdoor food hall, beer garden and creative space, is part of the mixed-use riverfront development Water Street Tampa. Several new restaurants are slated to open over the next few months here. Topping the list  is JoToro, a Mexican restaurant and Free the Cork Wine Bar

Cigar City Brewing Taproom has opened in a prime spot between Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team, and the soon-to-open JW Marriott Tampa Water Street.

More Event Venues

• The Tampa Museum of Art's eclectic permanent collection leans toward modern and contemporary works, including sculpture, painting, photography and installation art. The museum, which bills itself as the only such institution in the country accessible by boat, hosts private events for groups of up to 800 people. 

• For a venue with a raw, industrial vibe, consider CL Space. The versatile 2,088-square-foot industrial loft in the heart of Ybor City can accommodate up to 200 guests and features brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights and exposed beams. Dining tables, chairs and cocktail tables are included in the rental price. The venue has a kitchen, and outside caterers are welcome.

Things to Do in Tampa Bay

What's Happening in the Area?

• Visit Tampa Bay has launched Visit Tampa Gay, a comprehensive guide for LGBTQ visitors.The guide provides an in-depth view of the region’s thriving LGBTQ community through interviews with key figures, including Tampa Museum of Art director Michael Tomor, Diversity Chamber director Justice Gennari and newly elected Tampa Mayor Jane Castor – the city’s first LGBTQ mayor.

Getting Active & Outdoors

• Three unique ways to enjoy Tampa's great outdoors can found on the waterfront just outside the Tampa Convention Center. Board a Kraken Cycleboats "bar on wheels" and "pedal, pedal, drink" down the Hillsborough River. Ride along the same river on single or tandem water bicycle via Tampa Bay Water Bike Company’s "wheel" that are “easy to ride and virtually impossible to fall from or tip over.”  Those who crave speed can zoom along the Tampa Riverwalk in a rented miniature powerboat from Riverwalk Boating Company.

• Following a $36 million redevelopment, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and its River Center structure have received two 2019 American Architecture Awards for design excellence from The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. Completed in 2018 as part of the City of Tampa's plan to regenerate the West Tampa riverfront and adjacent neighborhoods, the park features expansive picnic and gathering spots with city views; first-class tennis, basketball, and football courts; a pedestrian wharf; raised walkways lined with more than 100 pre-existing oak trees; and a weekend water taxi stop. There's also a floating dock where visitors can watch the action on the Hillsborough River. The River Center has a swooping roof that channels runoff into an adjacent rain garden and incorporates a boathouse that offers kayak, canoe, paddleboard, dragon boat, and scull rentals.

• Break a sweat like a local with a sunrise jog along scenic Bayshore Boulevard in the morning, or come evening loop around the Tampa Riverwalk just as the lights come up and illuminate the city’s landmarks.
 
• To take in the sights of Tampa Bay from the bay itself, arrange a two-hour stand-up paddleboard class and adventure organized by Urban Kai Stand Up Paddleboarding.

Extending Your Trip in Tampa Bay

• Tampa Bay is known as the craft-brewing hub of the Southeastern U.S — craft beer is as much a part of life as sunshine and hand-rolled cigars. Choose from among hundreds of locally brewed craft beers at Cigar City Brewing Co.

• At the north side of the Riverwalk is Armature Works, a mixed-use commercial building that houses Heights Public Market, multiple event spaces, co-shared workspace as well as multiple waterfront restaurants and bars.

Tampa Bay's ties to pirates and Spanish explorers are celebrated at the Tampa Bay History Center's new "Treasure Seekers" exhibit. Visitors can climb a replica pirate ship, sight the stars through a sextant and learn about life below decks. The venue, a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, offers three floors of exhibits exploring 12,000 years of Florida history. The museum also has four event venues and can accommodate up to 600 guests.
 
Thrill-seekers revel in the roller coasters at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Among them is Tirgris, Florida's tallest launch coaster, which "catapults riders through an exhilarating array of looping twists with forward and backward motion, breathtaking drops, a 150-foot skyward surge and an inverted heartline roll" at more than 60 miles per hour. 

Take the free streetcar line that makes 15 min stops at key destinations like Tampa Convention Center, Amalie Arena, Sparkman Wharf, The Florida Aquarium and Historic Ybor City.

Tampa's Sports Scene

Tampa Bay, nicknamed "The Big Guava" in the 1970s, takes its sports seriously. Make some time to catch a home game of:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
Tampa Bay Rays 
Tampa Bay Lightning, 2020 Stanley Cup winners

Hot F&B Spots in Tampa

• Tampa Bay's undeniably hip cocktail scene is showcased in "Tampa With a Twist: A Baycrafted Cocktail Guide to Tampa Bay," a new release in Visit Tampa Bay's book series. Available at Unlock Tampa Bay Visitors Center and at several local retailers, the book combines photography with commentary from the pioneers of the city's cocktail culture, inspired cocktail recipes from some of the region’s best mixologists, bar bite recipes, and tips on how to create a perfect charcuterie board. Then sample libations created by some of the mix masters featured in the book, including Ro Patel of The Collection in The Hall on Franklin, Daniel Bareswilt of CW's Gin Joint, and Scooby Oliver of Rock Brothers Brewing.

• The city has earned the Number 10 spot on WalletHub’s "2019 Best Cities for Vegans & Vegetarians" list. The list ranks the top 100 U.S. cities in this category based on 17 key metrics, including the of restaurants serving meatless options, number of salad shops per capita, and cost of groceries fo vegetarians. In addition to being named the 10th-best city for vegans and vegetarians overall, Tampa came in ninth place on the list for the diversity, accessibility, and quality of vegan and vegetarian options. The latter was calculated according to the number of restaurants where vegan and vegetarian fare is available, as well as by number of community gardens, degree of access to fresh vegetarian food, and number of smoothie bars per capita.

• The menu of dining and sipping options at the Tampa Convention Center has expanded with the completion of a project on the Riverwalk adjacent to the facility. Big Ray's Fish Camp, a fishing shack-themed restaurant, is now open. The area surrounding the 360-degree bar The Sail, formerly known as the Sail Pavilion, has been renamed Sail Plaza and revamped to include amenities like upgraded/expanded restrooms, additional seating, new shade structures, and a full kitchen for Big Ray’s Fish Camp.

Among other local favorite eateries in the area are:

  1. Columbia - Spanish
  2. Ulele - Florida Fare
  3. Wright's Gourmet House - American
  4. La Terrazza Restaurant - Italian
  5. Al's Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que - American, BBQ
  6. Happy Fish - Peruvian
  7. On Swann - American
  8. First Watch - American
  9. Mr. Dunderbak's - German
  10. Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse - Brazilian
  11. Bern's Steak House - French, Steakhouse