Big, Efficient Convention Centers Are in High Demand


Municipal leaders throughout the country are focusing lots of attention on convention centers. That’s because convention-related business contributes millions to city coffers. Two years ago, communities in the United States with convention centers shared in $845 billion in revenue generated by the meetings industry along with $104 billion in tax receipts. New data shows a continual and significant upward trend since that time.

As municipal leaders focus on what it takes to bring major revenue-producing events to their communities, the first requirement is almost always a large, conveniently located convention center. The second requirement is often a new hotel.

Convention centers that were adequate in the past may no longer be attractive, efficient or adequate. As a result, city leaders are aggressively making plans to expand facilities to attract larger conventions. Others are planning renovations and upgrades or total replacements.

Since 1969, the convention center needs of the city of Wichita, Kansas, were served by its Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center. However, a decline in the number of conventions in the city is attributed to the size and age of Century II. A city-sponsored study estimated that a new convention center could result in millions of dollars in additional revenue for city coffers.

Officials in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, are also exploring the possibility of building a new convention center after a recent feasibility study estimated that a center could have an economic impact of nearly $200 million over 10 years. Like most other cities facing budget constraints, Eau Claire is considering various funding options to build and sustain a convention center.

In Sugar Land, Texas, city leaders are narrowing their search for a private-sector partner to collaborate on a convention center/hotel project. The city will select a private developer to build and operate a 50,000-square-foot convention center and a 350-room hotel. Sugar Land wants both to be located in the city’s arts and entertainment district.

Many new convention center projects are linked to construction of an accompanying hotel. Although not set to open until 2020, the Luminary Hotel in Fort Myers, Florida, is already booked for its first convention. The hotel is part of a public-private partnership with the city in which the developer will lease the property for 99 years, paying rent to the city based on hotel revenues.

Larimer County, Colorado, will seek private-sector partners to construct new facilities at the county’s events complex. The county would like to have a 200-room privately built hotel and a trade show building. County officials are willing to fund the county-built exhibition hall.

The city of Richmond, Texas, has asked for legislative authority to use sales, hotel and mixed-drink tax revenue to fund a new convention center and hotel. Three-dozen other Texas cities have already been approved to use these revenues as community development tools. No details are yet available but the legislation would require that the city sign an agreement with a developer for construction of the hotel and convention center by Sept. 21, 2021.

A $50-$60 million downtown convention center is planned for Greenville, South Carolina. Plans are for the city and Greenville County each to contribute $26 million to the project and then seek private-sector investors. City and county officials have also requested $5 million from the state legislature.

Officials in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are considering a $140 million, 26-story, 400-room convention-style hotel that will likely be publicly owned and privately operated. Three hotels are already connected to the city’s convention center and adding a fourth that includes 40,000 square feet of meeting space will allow the city to attract larger conventions.

The Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation to provide funding from special taxing districts for a $120 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center at Pan Am Plaza. The project would include a 50,000-square-foot ballroom, a 38-story tower, and 1,400 more rooms. If approved, the project would provide a 300,000-square-foot expansion with a covered walkway that connects to the convention center.

City leaders in Austin, Texas, are currently considering options related to the city’s convention center. A team of professors from The University of Texas was hired to provide a feasibility study on the economic impact of an expanded convention center. The report also provided various options for consideration.

This type of activity is common throughout the country. A trend is definitely moving through the nation. Companies of all types and sizes will benefit from the demand for services that are being created.

Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.


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