|By Marla Matzer Rose, The Columbus
Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 19, 2007 - If you build it, they won't necessarily come.
Proponents of a new convention hotel for Columbus were handed that news this week by an expert hired to explore the pros and cons of the idea.
A full-service, 500-room hotel across High Street from the Greater Columbus Convention Center holds promise for the city, said Jeff Sachs of Atlanta-based Strategic Advisory Group. But for such a multimillion-dollar project to be a success, the city must do a better job of marketing itself.
A survey showed that having a 500-room hotel would improve the city's chances of landing a meeting. Meeting planners surveyed who said they would "definitely" or "probably" consider Columbus rose from 10 percent to 26 percent based on adding the hotel. But the number who said they "definitely would not" consider Columbus remained at 48 percent, indicating that planners don't think the city is a strong draw for conventioneers.
"This is like a three-legged stool: We not only have to build more rooms, but we have to improve sales and marketing, and continue to improve our destination though things like building out the Arena District and improving air service," said William Jennison, executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority.
Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Experience Columbus, said the report reinforces what the convention and visitors bureau has been saying for years.
"It comes down to a lack of marketing mind-set on the part of community leaders over the last 50 years," Astleford said. "It's resulted in us having a complete lack of image in the national marketplace. Now, those leaders are starting to talk about the importance of marketing. It's not that we have different ears listening now, but we have expert voices saying what we've been saying for the last seven years."
Astleford added that competing cities all are opening new facilities and hotels, or have such plans under way.
Detroit, for example -- with casinos as an added draw -- has four new 400-room hotels opening in the next few months. The Detroit Marriott is expected to complete a $60 million upgrade by the end of the year. Indianapolis has a 1,400-room convention-center hotel expected to open in 2010, along with an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center. In Kansas City, a $135 million convention-center expansion was recently completed, a 213-room Hilton opened last year, and plans are in the works for a 1,000-room hotel next to its convention center.
Local hoteliers want to make sure that any new hotel includes a restaurant, ballroom and other amenities of a full-service hotel. With current Downtown hotel occupancy at an unspectacular 66 percent, other hotels can't afford to have the market flooded with more rooms that don't appeal to meeting planners and therefore don't increase business overall.
"All a limited-service hotel would do is to suppress the daily room rate across the board," Jennison said. "If we do it right, we'd hope to actually increase demand at least modestly for everyone. The other hotels are supportive based on this scenario."
Another proposal that's been considered the past several years is to build an addition to the Hyatt Regency hotel that connects to the convention center. Jennison said that idea is not dead, but it is not part of the current discussion of building a new hotel on land controlled by the convention authority.
The next step, Jennison said, will be to come up with a financing plan. He said building the new hotel as a public project, which would involve a much lower rate of interest, might make more sense than offering financial incentives to a private development firm. He added that no decision has been made.
Jennison said financing will be discussed at the next convention center board meeting Nov. 20.
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
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