|By Rod Spaw, Herald-Times, Bloomington,
Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 22, 2011--A market study shows strong support for a significant expansion of the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center, but what it could cost and whether the community can afford it are questions yet to be answered.
Thomas Hazinski, of HVS, a consulting firm doing an update of a convention center expansion feasibility study, filled in the first piece of the puzzle Monday in public presentations at the downtown center.
He said a market analysis showed Bloomington is well-positioned to increase the number of events it hosts each year, especially conventions and trade shows that represent the biggest potential customers. However, to do so will require correcting a number of existing deficiencies, including the lack of a large-scale exhibition hall and a connected full-service hotel.
Among market factors Bloomington has in its favor are its central location, proximity to Indianapolis and a stabilizing factor in the presence of Indiana University, according to Hazinski. Working against it, he said, are a lack of businesses to generate group and individual business travel and its distance from the Indianapolis airport.
The consultant said a survey of event planners showed that Bloomington was the second-most-desirable location in the state, behind only Indianapolis, in which to hold an event, but the survey also indicated that a lack of hotel rooms and suitable convention facilities were major drags on event business.
According to Hazinski, 13 percent of event planners responding to the survey said they had wanted to hold an event in Bloomington but couldn't due to lack of adequate space. Another 11 percent cited a lack of hotel rooms as a reason for not booking an event here.
He said 56 percent of event planners responded that they would be more likely to consider Bloomington if those two deficiencies were corrected, including 76 percent of big convention planners.
As a result, Hazinski said HVS is recommending that the convention center be expanded to include a 40,000-square-foot exhibition hall and additional meeting and ballroom space. He said the analysis also made clear that any expansion project should include a full-service hotel of at least 225 rooms connected to the convention center.
Hazinski defined a full-service hotel as one having an on-site restaurant, its own meeting rooms and such amenities as valet parking, upscale decor and an exercise center. He said there currently are no full-service hotels in Bloomington. The consultant said the convention center also should take advantage of its proximity to the B-Line Trail and perhaps develop property fronting the trail as a mix of commercial and residential space.
There were no price tags attached to any of the concepts Hazinski discussed Monday; he said the consultant's next step was to develop a business plan to include detailed costs of the convention center expansion, hotel development and related infrastructure needs. Possible methods of financing also will be part of the study's next phase, according to Hazinski, who said the local innkeeper's tax and a food and beverage tax are the two methods communities commonly use to finance such projects.
One cost the consultant won't have to include is land. Hazinski said there already is sufficient property owned by the city or county adjacent to the present convention center and immediately across College Avenue. Talisha Coppock, director of Downtown Bloomington Inc., said the existing center would be incorporated into any expansion. The current convention center building dates back to 1923; it originally was the home of Graham Motor Sales.
The second part of the study is expected to be completed in about a month, Hazinski said. When ready, he said, the business plan will be presented to the Monroe County Council, which is the local government entity that can support or reject a food and beverage tax, should one be proposed.
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