|By Julie Dunn, The Denver Post|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 2, 2004 - The Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau was in turmoil a year ago after it abruptly fired its long-term president.
But the board and 800 of its members will be celebrating at tonight's annual meeting at the newly expanded Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. It's the first official event at the center, which underwent a $310.7 million expansion approved by voters in 1999.
"I think our product is perfect," said Richard Scharf, who was named president and chief executive of the bureau in March. He said the 2.2 million total square footage of the facility would allow it to host 95 percent of the country's convention business.
Scharf replaced Eugene Dilbeck, who was fired in November 2003 after losing the confidence of the board. There were media reports of bureau employees attending a meeting at a local strip club and a review of the bureau's financial records by the city auditor.
Dilbeck, who spent years lobbying for the convention center expansion, did not return calls for comment about its opening. He has been invited to tonight's event.
Even with the new center, Denver tourism officials face a two-fold challenge: It will be years before the facility is an economic engine while there are ongoing funding challenges in marketing Colorado.
"When you open up a building, your earlier years are not going to be as robust obviously as your fifth or sixth year," said Scharf, who joined the bureau in 1985. "We're seeing a lot of groups wait until 2006 and beyond to book Denver."
The tax-excise bonds used to fund the expansion will be paid back through the city's hotel tax, car-rental tax and a food-and-beverage tax.
The convention bureau's $8.4 million budget ranks 35th in the nation. This year, $5.2 million of the bureau's funding came from Denver area lodging taxes, $2.8 million came from membership dues and other activities, and $400,000 was provided by the city.
Meanwhile, the state's $5.4 million tourism-marketing budget, which ranks 38th in the nation, is mostly used to promote leisure travel as opposed to convention business.
"The biggest issue we have is getting the word out," Scharf said. "There is a lot of firepower that Denver does not have."
Nick LeMasters, general manager of Cherry Creek Shopping Center and a bureau board member, said it needs more public funding to attract business.
"If we ever expect to maximize the tourism opportunities in Denver, the metro area and the entire state, we will require more funding," he said.
According to the bureau, 165 meetings have been booked into Denver through 2017, which is estimated to bring $1.4 billion in spending to the metro area.
Six groups that would previously have been too large to gather in Denver have reserved exhibit floor space for next year. That will amount to an additional $120 million in business, based on an economic impact of more than $1,000 per delegate and an additional $35 million from February's NBA All-Star Game.
Tonight's meeting, the largest in the bureau's 95-year history, will feature an address by chairman Scott Bemis, publisher of the Denver Business Journal.
ALL-STARS OF COLORADO TOURISM: The Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau will also elect 12 new board members and induct three individuals into its Tourism Hall of Fame. Frontier Airlines, the Denver Zoo and Larimer Square also will be awarded Tourism Star Awards.
--Samuel Arnold, co-owner of The Fort Restaurant Phil Karsh, co-founder of Denver advertising agency Karsh & Hagan Communications Inc.
--Cathy Reynolds, a former Denver city councilwoman
BY THE NUMBERS
--$8.4 million: Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau budget, ranked 35th in the nation
--$5.4 million: Colorado's tourism-marketing budget, ranked 38th in the nation and mostly directed toward leisure travel
WHAT HE'S SAYING: "I think our product is perfect." Richard Scharf, bureau president and chief executive, referring to the expanded convention center
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