(Carl Cronan is editor of RealEstateFlorida.)

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TAMPA, FL-The new owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning have plentyof ideas about developing land surrounding the St. Pete TimesForum. They just aren't ready to proceed with them yet, despiteefforts by local tourism officials to advance a planned hoteladjacent to the arena.

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Lightning Investment Holdings LP, which took control of theNational Hockey League franchise three weeks ago, bought the rightsto develop two parcels totaling 5.5 acres in Downtown Tampa as partof its $200-million acquisition of the team and leasehold rights tothe publicly owned arena. However, the eight-member ownership grouphas been focused lately on personnel matters, such as signingplayers to lucrative long-term contracts, rather than realestate.

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"At this time, we need to carefully look at the various optionsfor the two separate properties and then determine the best courseof action moving forward," Lightning owners said in a preparedstatement responding to local media inquiries. "We look forward togreat things for the community."

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Excitement over the Lightning's plans was sparked earlier thisweek during an annual tourism forecast presented by theHillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, during which localtourism marketing chief Paul Catoe told the audience that the teamwould build a hotel and convention center on the arena's west sideparking lot. The hotel would be right across the street from theTampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

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Lou Plasencia, a Tampa-based hotel industry consultant, says thelot is large enough to support up to 900 rooms, though the largerquestion remains whether team owners could secure as much as $6million in financing for such a project. Plasencia providedservices to another investment group that made a bid for theLightning over the past year.

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Two of the Lightning's new owners have extensive commercial realestate experience: Craig Sher, executive chairman of the St.Petersburg-based Sembler Co., and Len Barrie, head of Bear MountainResort in Victoria, BC. The Lightning's previous owners, PalaceSports & Entertainment, had its own retail and hospitalitydevelopment plans yet never moved forward over the last nineyears.

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All other members of Lightning Investment Holdings likely havethe finances to build around the St. Pete Times Forum as they seefit. The group is led by Oren Koules, a minor-league hockey playerturned Hollywood movie and television producer best known for the"Saw" thriller films and the CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men."

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