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Columbus, Ohio Officials Move Forward with Plans for a
 Publicly Financed 500 room Convention Center Hotel

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

March 6, 2009 - Columbus has been losing millions of dollars a year by not having more full-service hotel rooms near the convention center, but that situation is about to be remedied. Local officials formally announced plans yesterday for a new, publicly financed hotel across from the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

"This new hotel would allow us to compete for 92 percent of events we would like to have here," said Mayor Michael B. Coleman at yesterday's announcement at the convention center.

Coleman said the hotel is expected to bring in $2.3 million annually in tax revenue to the city, "which is $23 million over 10 years going to the city's bottom line."

Columbus currently has more than twice the number of "limited-service" hotel rooms as full-service. Only the Hyatt Regency Columbus and the Crowne Plaza Hotel next to the convention center are considered full-service convention hotels.

Full-service properties typically offer such amenities as meeting space, suites, restaurants offering three meals a day and 24-hour room service during large events.

The new hotel, with 500 rooms and 54 suites, could help the convention center jump from a current usage rate of 60 percent to 70 percent to 75 percent after the hotel opens at the end of 2012, said Bill Jennison, executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. That group is spearheading the hotel project.

Craig Liston, general manger of the convention center, said that higher usage rate could equate to $2.25 million of revenue that is being lost annually in rent and ancillary spending on items such as food.

That figure is for the center alone and doesn't include the economic impact that lost business would have meant to Columbus.

Brian Ross has been keeping a "lost business log" that shows, conservatively, $18 million in lost hotel room revenue during the past three years. Ross is vice president of sales for Experience Columbus, the convention and visitors bureau, and is one of those trying to encourage groups to book conventions here.

Groups that passed on Columbus, including the International City/County Management Association, the U.S. Department of Defense and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, all cited the city's lack of sufficient full-service hotel rooms.

Experience Columbus also has felt hampered in its efforts by its budget, which it considers too small to do its job. The organization expects its budget will be down by 14 percent this year compared with past years because it will receive less from the city and from room taxes as travel slows across the country.

Asked about the funding issue yesterday, Experience Columbus Chief Executive Paul Astleford said he was just happy that the new hotel is finally moving forward, and he downplayed his group's budget squeeze.

"We understand what the city is going through," Astleford said. "We hope that, as the economy turns about, we'll be able to see more funding coming in."

City and county officials emphasized that the hotel makes sense and is a fiscally sound project to undertake, even amid the recession.

"Investment equals savings," said Columbus City Council President Michael C. Mentel. "This will bring in revenue and jobs."

Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown said the construction phase alone is expected to create more than 500 jobs.

Jennison said he expects private development to follow the building of the new hotel, which does not yet have an operator or management company. The convention authority will issue requests for proposals for everything from a designer and architect to a hotel brand for the project.


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