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Expand Or Wither Convention Center Report Tells St. Louis

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Today, a consulting report completed for the St. louis Convention and Visitors Commission was made public by David Hunn at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The report is embedded below. In short, the plan suggests a significant investment in the region’s largest convention center to compete with peer cities, and predicts declining use and revenue without renovation and expansion. nextSTL reported on early plans to expand the center’s ballroom in 2014.

An expansion as suggested by the report is projected to increase room-night demand to more than 557,000 room-nights, from the current 350,000 per year. Direct spending is projected to increase to $355M, and expansion is expected to support 4,590 FTE jobs, according to the report.

With the NFL Rams no longer occupying the dome connected to the convention center, the opportunity exists to increase the complex’s convention business. It is estimated that 10 new conventions and trade shows with 245,000 attendees could be added with the expanded availability and expansion.

Convention centers typically operate at a loss. Communities fund them in order to support hotels, restaurants, airports, and other businesses. The $3.2M annual deficit noted for St. Louis is reportedly less than many peer cities. The study claims the proposed investment could lower this deficit.

The report also gives a quick outline of funding options. Additional revenue could be sought from a new taxing district or added hotel and car rental taxes (though St. Louis already has near the highest hotel tax in the nation). Funding through existing taxes with increased sales from added convention center use could also finance the investment. This is what has reportedly worked in Indianapolis, Austin, and Seattle.

Strategic and Business Plan – America’s Center Convention Complex 02/17/2016 by nextSTL.com

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  • STLExplorer

    I just spent the night in Pittsburgh and paid a 14% room tax (although there is no state sales tax). This could be a great opportunity to rework the north side of the convention center. A compromise that allows the convention center to be a better neighbor to the north could be a big win. We just need to negotiate the size of the expansion and goals/priorities (who is responsible for that?).

  • JZ71

    Playing the “keeping up with the Jonses” game can get very expensive very quickly. To do things “right”, the best answer would probably be to start fresh in a new location – the existing facility certainly needs work to stay “competitive” / just come up to current “standards” and expectations.

  • STLEnginerd

    Piggy to the trough mentality. There is alot of tax money potentially up for grabs and everyone seems to want to rush to lock it up for another 30 year’s. If they had thrown this out 3 months ago they would have been laughed out of the room. but since we are not buying the Rams a new home $450 million in public money is potentially looking for a home. (I realize the state is probably dialing back, or out completely so it probably much less)

    I’m not saying its bad to invest in the convention center, but there is no rush for this. Take your time. If we draw 250K with an aging Convention Center that is paid off, that might be better than 500K with 500 million in debt. Its definitely not panic button time.

    Continue with the current planned upgrades with garage and ballroom, and take a breathe.

  • gmichaud

    I have heard a proposal for tearing down the the Dome. It would be another mistake in a series of mistakes. The Dome should have been designed as a modular structure to begin with given the terms of the lease, and especially for long term use by the Convention Center to meet changing needs, how in the hell was that missed?
    The people calling the shots clearly don’t know what they are doing. The report is useful but a solution is not evident
    This screams for an architectural competition, there is tons of vacant land around the dome, the highway and roads underneath are a mess, the connection to the river needs to be improved. There is talk of a Civic Room, proposed for around Soldiers Memorial, maybe it should be attached to the convention center somehow and double up uses, creating space for conventions to hold their own flea market and so on.
    Ideas are needed, there are solutions out there, likely more exciting and cheaper than the same people at the St Louis Convention Commission and their predecessors who came up with the original failed dome plan can imagine.
    Really the proposal to tear down the Dome just indicates to me the total lack of talent of the people running the Convention Authority. It is the same thinking that got St. Louis the failed dome and lease in the first place.
    New, stimulating ideas like a civic room(basically a large plaza) that could host events and markets is the way to set St. Louis apart, not tearing down a huge investment that can still contribute in different ways.
    An architectural competition would be an excellent way to look at different solutions, to get a debate started and make future investments transparent and public.

    • Alex Ihnen

      To be fair, I don’t think there’s a proposal to tear down the dome per se, but it is one of many options being explored. I don’t think that’s a bad idea in and of itself.

      I do agree with your point that we’re looking at the same people, and the same consultant, pitching the same ideas again. I wish there was more creativity, more voices, and some different faces at the table.

  • Down in Downtown

    As a resident and business owner in Downtown we must invest in our convention center. No convention business would be a massive punch in the gut. This report has taught me one thing… I should just move to Nashville.

    • matimal

      bye……

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t see that “no convention business” is an option. The report says STL should invest big or expect a decline in convention business.