|By Brook Stockberger, Las Cruces
Sun-News, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 23, 2011--LAS CRUCES -- One of the advantages of the newly opened Las Cruces Convention Center is the ability to attract events to southern New Mexico's largest city that might not otherwise have come to town.
Already, manager David Hicks and his staff have booked such events as the New Mexico Governor's Conference on Tourism and the National Active and Retired Federal Employee Convention, among others.
The $26 million, 55,000-square-foot facility was built by the city and operates under a contract with Global Spectrum.
While hailed as a plus for the city to attract convention business, local events, too, have found a home at the center, and that's not sitting well with some competing hoteliers and caterers who feel the city-owned facility has an unfair advantage.
"None of the people in town are afraid of equal competition," said Marci Dickerson, owner of Dickerson's Catering and Dickerson's Event Center. "If the convention center was built by Global Spectrum and private funding and was a straight-up competitor, that'd be fine. I will go head to head with anybody. Our big issue was with it being a government-supplied subsidy."
Raj Sing, owner of the Ramada Palms Inn, 201 E. University Ave., right down the street from the convention center, said he believes the issue is a lack of oversight.
"Our biggest concern is that no guidelines have been set by our city administration to guide and monitor the operation of the convention center," Sing said. "Our concern is whether
the convention center is really making an effort to bring in new business to our community ... at this time we have seen no new business."
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said that if city merchants were being left out, that was unacceptable.
"We don't want local vendors and local businesses to be hurt," he said. "The intent was for them to prosper with the convention center being in town. I've had a chance to meet some of hoteliers and also the catering business people, and some of their concerns valid."
Miyagishima said he was "confident" a solution could be found.
Dickerson, Sing and a group of other hoteliers and like-minded businesses have requested changes in a letter to City Manager Robert Garza. Dickerson said she was pleased with the feedback.
"I feel that our city has been very responsive to our concerns and progress is being made," she said. "Robert Garza has always been a great supporter of local business and his help has been invaluable to us."
Garza said discussions were still in the early stages.
"One local hotelier has sent me a lengthy email, insisting the city change the way the convention center operates," he said. "While I was able to send them a preliminary reply to their email, I have never had an opportunity to discuss their issues with them."
Garza reports that, "the city has a binding contract with the convention center operators, Global Spectrum, and there are limits as to what I can change or direct as the city manager and there are also limits as to what the city council as a policy body can do within the terms and conditions of that contract."
Hicks said he was aware of the concerns and, "we are in the process of working with the city to understand what is expected from us moving forward. I anticipate the expectations will be finalized over the coming days."
Still, he believes the goal of the Las Cruces Convention Center remains the same.
"Our intent, which has not changed, continues to focus on events that provide economic impact and the best return on investment for the city of Las Cruces," he said.
Not all events in town have shifted to the convention center. The Mayor's Gala, a fundraiser May 20 for the Red Cross, looked into using the convention center, but Miyagishima said the price was too high. So the event will be at the Farm and Ranch Museum.
"There was a fee that we had to pay," Miyagishima said.
"The goal of the event is to raise funds for the Red Cross and if we had used the convention center we would have cut into that profit margin for the Red Cross to pay the room rental fee," said Dawn Starostka, owner of Helping Hands Event Planning, which helps organize the event.
Still, Starostka said she was excited to have the convention center in town.
"We did the Bridal Showcase at the convention center and it was great and well attended," she said. "We also did the Home and Garden Show and that went really well."
Brook Stockberger can be reached at (575) 541-5457.
Here are just some of the events planned for the Las Cruces Convention Center, which opened Dec. 1 at University and Union avenues. A total of 157 bookings are scheduled so far at the facility:
-- New Mexico Governor's Conference on Tourism, April
-- National Active and Retired Federal Employee Convention, April
-- New Mexico 2011 Transportation Engineering Conference, April
-- Knights of Columbus Convention, May
-- Beta Sigma Phi New Mexico Convention, June
-- American Astronomical Society -- Solar Physics Division Annual Meeting, June
-- Universal Cheerleader's Association Annual Convention, July
-- New Mexico High School Coaches Association, July
To see more of the Las Cruces Sun-News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.lcsun-news.com.
Copyright (c) 2011, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.
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