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Memphis Hotels Ponder the Loss of a 50,000 Attendee
 Religious Convention to St. Louis

By Tom Bailey Jr., The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April16, 2009 - Memphis shouldn't have much problem finding substitutes for the annual convocation of the Church of God in Christ, hotel officials said Wednesday.

The problem is that the replacements won't be as big (as many as 50,000 people) or consistent (annually since 1907).

"It's not going to be like we're going to lose all the business and not sell any rooms during that week," said Wayne Tabor, general manager of Holiday Inn Select-Downtown.

Tabor, also chairman of the Memphis Hotel and Lodging Association, and others in the industry responded to Tuesday's news that COGIC will move its convocation out of Memphis for the first time since 1907.

The huge assembly will go upriver to St. Louis in 2010.

"There will be business," Tabor said. "It's not the end of the world. But it certainly makes it tougher."

Perhaps no hotel is hurt more than Memphis Marriott Downtown, the one physically connected to Memphis Cook Convention Center.

"We're very, very disappointed that they're leaving," general manager Tony Goebel said. "It's a huge piece of business for the city."

And for the Marriott. The convocation generates nearly 3 percent of the hotel's annual sales.

It's a little late to land another major convention in 2010, Goebel said, because most conventions already have their sites set for that year.

But if COGIC winds up not returning in 2011 or 2012, "obviously, the city has more time to recover," Goebel said.

November is prime season for conventions, and there should be demand from other organizations.

"I feel very confident for future years," he said.

MHLA executive director Peggy Callahan said the convocation "has been a good conference for us in the last 101 years and we wish them well."

She said she understands COGIC's contract in St. Louis is for one year.

"I assume for 2011 they'll renegotiate and decide to stay in St. Louis or go somewhere else or perhaps come back to Memphis."

Hotel officials are perplexed that COGIC did not invite Memphis to bid against St. Louis.

"We were not informed of the bid for 2010," Callahan said. "... It's not like we lost the bid. We weren't invited."

The Holiday Inn Select-Downtown was not asked to propose room rates to COGIC for 2010, Tabor said.

A COGIC spokesman said Tuesday the convocation is moving over a fairness issue. The city should offer better rates for rooms and convention space to a convention COGIC's size, COGIC's Brandon Porter said.

But cramped accommodations may also be a problem.

COGIC must use both FedExForum and the Convention Center, on opposite sides of Downtown.

"I'm not real familiar with St. Louis, but I understand it's all going to be held in their convention center and they don't have to go off-site," Tabor said.

In St. Louis, COGIC members can use three to five hotels around the convention center.

"It's quite different from Memphis, where you've got to use hotels around the city to house some people," Tabor said.

Come November 2010, COGIC will leave a big hole to fill.

"It's a good piece of business," Callahan said, "but knowing we have a whole year, we can work to fill up that slot of time."

-- Tom Bailey Jr.: 529-2388

Metropolitan Memphis Hotel and Lodging Association

Membership: More than 50 hotels, representing about 2,000 rooms.

Executive director: Peggy Callahan

Headquarters: 7730 Goshawk Cove, Cordova

Phone: 752-9902

Web: mmhla.com

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

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