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Columbus, Ohio Downtown Convention Hotel Effort Gets
 Mayorial Support; Fears Losing Competitive Edge

By Marla Matzer Rose, The Columbus Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 27, 2007 - There's renewed hope this week for a new Downtown convention hotel that's been discussed for several years.

After Mayor Michael B. Coleman spoke of the city's need for one in his State of the City address Thursday, those with a stake in Columbus' convention business hope that his interest will help kick-start the project.

"Clearly, the mayor's on board," said Paul Astleford, CEO of convention and visitors bureau Experience Columbus. "Now, we have to make sure that the practical part of finding a developer ... can be worked out to the satisfaction of everyone involved."

Political backing is especially important because millions of dollars in public financing will be needed to build a 500- to 750-room hotel near the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The mayor has asked the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority to join with Experience Columbus and the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. to seek a developer. The convention authority controls the land on which the hotel would be built.

A proposal from Columbus hotel developer Platinum Ridge recently was examined by city and convention-authority officials. It was passed over, though, because it proposed a mixed-use development, including housing, rather than the pure full-service hotel being sought.

A second proposal that's been considered over the years is an expansion of the existing Hyatt Regency Hotel adjoining the convention center. For now, that addition, which also would require public funding, has taken the back seat.

Other cities in the region, including Indianapolis and Louisville, have put of millions of dollars in public funding behind new convention space and hotels in recent years.

Coleman said last week that he'd become aware of how inadequate Columbus' conventionhotel situation was while working to attract the 2008 Republican National Convention to Columbus. The group passed over Cleveland and three other cities in favor of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

Without more full-servicehotel rooms, Astleford said, Columbus risks losing new national conventions as well as groups that currently meet in Columbus but that are on the verge of outgrowing local accommodations. These include the Longaberger Co.; the OFA, formerly the Ohio Florists' Association; and the Game Manufacturers Association.

John R. Holmes, executive director of OFA, a floriculture association now with a national membership, said Columbus' hotel mix has been the biggest problem for the group in an otherwise happy relationship with Columbus. The OFA brings more than 10,000 people to the convention center each summer, generating an estimated $10 million for the local economy, Holmes said.

"It costs us north of $60,000 each year to operate shuttles from the convention center, because we take up rooms all over Downtown Columbus," Holmes said. "The loudest complaint from our customers has been the hotel issue. It's not just the quantity, but the quality and location that's a problem."

Holmes, based in Columbus, says he hopes the city recognizes the importance of backing a convention hotel.

Using public money to finance a larger hotel would be an investment and "not a gift," Holmes said. "We're committed to Columbus through 2013, but groups like ours are making decisions six, seven years out. This is using visitor dollars to develop the economy here in central Ohio."

mrose@dispatch.com

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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