Guest Column: Downtown not ideal for convention center
By Dan Weitzel
A downtown Rockford location would not be a good choice for a publicly-financed convention center.
First of all, there are too many cities in the region, (Springfield, Oshkosh, Cedar Rapids,Green Bay) that this type of venture has become an albatross around its citizens’ necks. In fact in Springfield, the 315-room Lincoln Hotel, the main hotel that supported the downtown convention center, just sold at auction for around $21,000 per room. New construction for a similar property would be projected at around $ 95,000 per room. A bargain price for a property located ideally next to a downtown convention center, and nobody wanted it at legitimate cost? There’s a reason for it.
Second, the parameters given to C.H. Johnson when contracted to conduct a feasibility survey were to find a location downtown and downtown only. I believe his other instructions were to write a favorable survey regardless of what is realistic, in other words, love the downtown, warts and all. At a meeting held in November that included local hoteliers from the east side, the consultant stated that the east side was the “… low-hanging fruit…” meaning the most presumedly favorable site choice for Rockford. Additionally, if the downtown was such an incredible location for this venture, it would have been pursued by a member of the private sector already.
Third, the cost of construction has been mentioned, which is sketchy at best, but what about the continuing operating costs? Sure, a management company would be thrilled to undertake this venture, but do people understand that they operate off a percentage of the gross revenue and not net profit? If this project fails, the management company is gone, and Rockford is stuck with another white elephant.
Approximately 30 years ago, when the MetroCentre was proposed and pushed through at current location, its supporters stated that it would require approximately $400,000 of subsidized money its first year, break even its second and thereafter return vast sums to the city. The city of Rockford is still waiting for its first big windfall check.
Finally, if a convention center is truly needed, build it where it would have a fighting chance; on the east side. Existing hotels and restaurants are already there to support it, and it would have the most favorable infrastructure capacity.
We’ve seen and heard the city’s side of this proposal. If the citizens of Rockford opinions’ hold any merit, look up the readers’ comments on any of the media outlets that covered this. The vast majority overwhelmingly do not support this venture.
Dan Weitzel is from DKN Hotels and represents Baymont Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn,
Staybridge Suites, Rockford; and Holiday Inn Express, Loves Park (www.rockhospitality.com).
From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue