|By Rich Laden, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 16, 2004 - A second consultant hired to study the feasibility of a proposed downtown Colorado Springs convention center has given the project mixed reviews, according to a report released Monday.
Area business people and civic leaders paid $58,000 to the Strategic Advisory Group of suburban Atlanta to provide a second opinion. The study generally gives a thumbs up to the idea that a Springs venue would successfully grab a piece of the convention market and increase the number of meetings, trade shows and other events coming to town.
In that area, SAG confirms a key finding in a July 2003 report by HVS International, a suburban New York City consultant hired for $50,000 by the city of Colorado Springs.
HVS suggested the Springs could support a 155,000-square-foot downtown center and an adjoining 400-room hotel.
SAG's report, however, isn't a ringing endorsement of the convention center concept and takes issue with other HVS findings.
Among them: SAG said a convention center would operate at a higher annual deficit than HVS estimated and that convention delegates and attendees wouldn't use as many hotel rooms as originally projected.
The SAG report is the latest step in a nearly 5-year-old effort by business people, developers, civic leaders and downtown advocates to construct a convention center.
What effect the report will have remains to be seen.
In May, the City Council endorsed the concept of a downtown convention center, which would house a Hall of Fame for the Springs-based U.S. Olympic Committee. But the council stopped short of committing money, saying it wanted more information before it invests city funds or asks voters to raise the lodging and auto-rental tax to pay for the center.
The SAG report provides additional information, but it's neutral in its tone and language. Although it makes several findings, the report doesn't recommend a convention center be built, nor does it suggest the project's shortcomings should pose a roadblock.
Councilman Jerry Heimlicher called the SAG report "the beginning of more serious study" on the issue.
SAG representatives are expected to review their findings and take questions at the City Council's informal meeting Monday.
"The study does not provide an overwhelming argument to build a center," Heimlicher said. "It kind of backs the HVS study and says it appears that it could be something that's advantageous."
Heimlicher noted, however, that the SAG study doesn't explore all issues, such as the potential competition posed by the existing Phil Long Expo Center on the Springs' north side and a 60,000-square-foot exhibition hall being built on the southwest side by The Broadmoor hotel.
Steve Bartolin, Broadmoor president and a vocal convention center critic, said the SAG report contains red flags that should make city and community leaders think twice.
The SAG report projects hotel room nights generated by convention attendees would total 60,000 to 80,000 a year; HVS suggested the number would be nearly 127,000.
Fewer room nights mean the economic benefits of a convention center would be far less than projected and hardly worth the city's investment, Bartolin said.
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