|By Shannan Bowen, Star-News, Wilmington,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 22, 2011--If only that hotel had been built by now in the dirt lot adjacent to the new Wilmington Convention Center.
Six groups have told sales managers they definitely would come with a combined 4,800 attendees if there was an adjacent hotel.
And 22 organizations needing a combined 19,285 rooms wouldn't have turned down the area, even if only temporarily.
The number of conventions skipping Wilmington because of the missing hotel was presented to city officials at Friday's budget meeting.
Steve Bridges, assistant to the city manager for development, was surprised.
"The key is getting a hotel. There's no doubt," he said on Monday.
It's not that he didn't already know that a hotel would mean more business. Attracting a developer has been a priority throughout the years-long process of planning and building the convention center, which opened for its first event in November.
But the number of contracts that would have been signed if a hotel was standing just exemplified that need, Bridges said.
"I think the majority of those groups are going to come" with a hotel present, he said, adding that many groups that decided not to sign contracts are temporarily holding off on coming to the area.
Bridges said he's talked to several development groups interested in building the project.
"People I'm talking to recognize this is a really good opportunity for an onsite hotel," he said.
But he'll wait to see how many are genuine when the city's request for proposals is released sometime this week.
Three developers backed out in the past with excuses including difficulty securing financing and that a hotel management company couldn't manage the convention center as well.
The missing hotel means tourism and convention center officials must pitch packages to potential conventioneers that could include accommodations at hotels within walking distance, and even hotels at the beaches with shuttle service provided.
And they weren't necessarily unsuccessful. A presentation at Friday's budget meeting revealed the number of event bookings, site visits and other inquiries at the convention center.
Fourteen conventions booked through a collaborative effort between the visitors bureau and convention center sales managers will require a total of 5,945 hotel rooms, for example. Another 15 conventions are tentative and would need 12,395 rooms, according to information presented to city officials.
Those are in addition to the 27 events, including private meetings, banquets and trade shows, held Nov. 14 through Feb. 5. And convention center staff also booked 50 additional events, not including the 14 large conventions.
Overall, Bridges said city staff and elected officials are pleased with SMG, the management firm hired to operate the center.
Expenses are less than expected thus far, and SMG reported an average income loss of $45,400 per month with a budgeted $88,397 per month loss.
The budgeted losses are covered by revenues from room-occupancy taxes, the 6-percent fee on any lodging in a special district near the convention center. Room-occupancy tax revenues also funnel to a fund that pays off the nearly $60 million it took to build the convention center.
"They're managing the center frugally, but effectively," Bridges said.
But the convention center is already projected to be in the red by 2020, even with a hotel developed.
And even if a developer signs on soon to build a hotel at the convention center, the project still could take about two years to complete, or more or less depending on the number of hotel rooms, Bridges said.
That would mean two more years convention center staff and visitors bureau officials could report to city officials that it was challenging attracting conventions without a hotel.
Shannan Bowen: 343-2016
On Twitter: @shanbow
To see more of The Star-News or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.starnewsonline.com.
Copyright (c) 2011, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.
To Learn More About Your News Being Published on Hotel-Online Inquire Here