|By Rob O'Dell, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 4, 2007 --If the reaction of Albuquerque's tourism officials to Tucson's convention-center hotel and arena plans means anything, Tucson is on the right track.
While Tucson may have fallen behind Albuquerque since 1999 in Downtown revitalization, several Albuquerque officials say the tables will be turned if Tucson moves forward with its plans for a publicly financed hotel; a $130 million, 12,000-seat arena; and a remodeled Tucson Convention Center.
"Tucson was not capable of being a major competitor" with Albuquerque for convention business because of its antiquated convention center and the lack of a headquarters Downtown hotel, said Dale Lockett, head of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Tucson is nearing a decision to select one of four hotel developers to built a 700-room convention-center hotel near the TCC, using city-provided low-interest financing.
"Quite frankly if Tucson moves forward with what you're planning, you will have a role reversal," Lockett said. "Albuquerque could not compete with Tucson. Tucson would have a much better product."
Karl Holme, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, said Tucson's hotel-arena-convention center is a "credible" plan that Albuquerque could learn from.
"You need to have a flagship hotel Downtown," for the convention business to work, Holme said, adding that the Hyatt, with just 395 rooms, isn't big enough. He contends Albuquerque needs another 500 to 700 rooms Downtown.
But former Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca cautioned about relying so heavily on the convention industry as the main driver for Downtown.
"The convention center here is a turkey. It's not being used," Baca said, adding that the Hyatt, opened in 1990, didn't spawn Downtown progress. That came nine years later as a result of other efforts.
Charlie Gray, the Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association's executive director, agreed the city needs more rooms. But he also said revitalizing Downtown needs more than conventions. You need people living Downtown to make it work.
"You can build arenas, you build hotels, but at 5 p.m. in Albuquerque and Tucson it gets pretty quiet," said Gray, who once ran Tucson's Downtown Development Corp. and several local hotels.
But the convention business trickles down to the merchants on the street, said Dwayne Smith, general manager of the Gold Street Caffe in Albuquerque. Smith said he goes over to the Hyatt every day to cultivate relationships so workers will recommend his restaurant to out of towners.
"I tap into that," Smith said. "It's definitely a piece of our pie -- no doubt."
Lockett said he hopes Tucson moves ahead of Albuquerque with a new hotel and arena because it would push Albuquerque to keep up.
"Do we see what Tucson is doing? Sure we do," he said. "Do we see them as a threat? Yes."
--Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4240 or email@example.com.
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