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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

TAMPA, FL-With more people expected to come to town for Super Bowl XLIII than there are actual seats in Raymond James Stadium, the city’s hotel capacity should be maxed out by the weekend of the game. The good news, though, is that there are better chances of getting a room this year than the last time the National Football League staged its championship here eight years ago.

Approximately 21,000 hotel rooms are currently counted in Tampa and Hillsborough County by Henderson, TN-based Smith Travel Research, up by more than 2,300 or 13% since Super Bowl XXXV was played in January 2001, with roughly 900 rooms unlocking in the past year alone. One major full-service hotel opened within 10 days of this year’s Feb. 1 kickoff–the 255-room Westin Tampa Bay Airport, in the Rocky Point waterfront district.

Two more large hotels opened in Tampa since the last local Super Bowl. The 293-room Renaissance International Plaza is located within easy driving (or long walking) distance to the stadium, while the 360-unit Embassy Suites has since become part of the Downtown Tampa skyline.

While many of the football fans and celebrities who normally flock to Super Bowl venues each year tend to spread out over the host region, from the Gulf of Mexico beaches west of Tampa to as far east as Orlando’s popular theme parks, plenty of visitors will want to stay as close to the stadium as possible. Those rooms are likely booked well in advance, with a few set aside for wealthy guests for whom money is no object.

However, money may be an object for this year’s Super Bowl because of the recession, with fewer NFL fans expected to travel and participating corporate sponsors being reduced. The estimated local economic impact from hosting the big game is expected to come in around $150 million, which is $30 million less than the anticipated windfall during better times, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

The one saving grace for Tampa hotels will be marketing alliances with the NFL, which designates where the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals are staying, along with roughly 3,000 credentialed media members covering the game. “The hotels that have participated in blocks with the NFL are doing better than those that are not participating at all,” says Steve Hayes, executive vice president of Tampa Bay & Co., the local convention and visitors’ bureau.

Hayes observes that rooms may still be available in Tampa within a week of the game, yet bookings are more solid between Friday evening and Monday morning on either side of the Super Bowl. Prices averaged between $250 and $300 per night, he says, with ranges from $700 near Busch Gardens to $150 on the city’s east side.

Westin Tampa Bay Airport, which was offering rooms starting at $379 per night just days before the Super Bowl, met its goal of opening in time for the game. Atlanta-based Hardin Construction Co. LLC, the contractor hired by hotel owner Impact Properties to build the 16-story structure on the site of an old Days Inn, managed to finish the project three months ahead of schedule.

“We did what was necessary to get the job done,” says Todd Fultz, Hardin’s construction manager in Tampa. Hardin cites factors such as favorable weather conditions over the past year, as well as a performance by a magician during a jobsite meeting last fall.

While it’s nice to have a brand-new upscale hotel like the Westin open within days of a major tourism event like the Super Bowl, Hayes points out that the challenge will be keeping those rooms turning well after the last fan checks out. “It’s a prime location on the water,” he says. “The majority of hotels in Tampa are not.”

One high-rise hotel overlooking Tampa Bay won’t be ready in time for this year’s game. Williamsburg, VA-based MHI Hospitality Group had hoped to be finished with its conversion of an existing 11-story hotel near Interstate 275 to a Crowne Plaza, but work on the new exterior was still under way in late January.

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