The issue: Under the current rules, building a convention center is nearly impossible.
What we think: Recent explosive downtown growth means we should revisit the possibility.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Downtown Colorado Springs is booming.
New hotels are taking root, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame is scheduled to open before the 2020 Tokyo games, and consumers have ample opportunity to frequent boutiques, restaurants and pubs. There’s no shortage of reasons for guests to visit Colorado Springs, especially its picturesque downtown. In the works are hundreds of new hotel rooms, a downtown stadium and a hockey arena. We’ve also seen an influx of restaurants and bars gearing up to entertain, feed and quench the thirsts of fresh visitors.
One thing that isn’t downtown? A convention center. And while there are risks associated with investing in such facilities — they’re expensive to build and rarely break even financially — the fact remains that a municipal election decision in 2005, when downtown was a quieter (and some may say, duller) place, prevents the city from “planning, building, funding, or financing a convention center” without voter approval.
Considering the extraordinary impact tourism has had on local coffers without a convention center, now seems to be the ideal time to reintroduce that conversation.
According to Visit Colorado Springs, some 23 million people came to the Pikes Peak region in 2018 alone. But slightly less than half — 10 million people — stayed overnight. Last year tourism provided a $2.4 billion economic boost to the region; of that, $1.7 billion came from overnight guests. So, that relatively small number of overnight visitors had a dramatically greater economic impact than their day-tripping cohorts.
Only 8 percent of last year’s 23 million tourists came for business, while 5 percent said they were here for a combination of business and leisure.
On March 20, HVS International, a Chicago-based company that does convention, sports and entertainment facilities consulting, declared: “Downtown could reemerge as a renewed city core replete with live-work neighborhoods, pedestrian and park areas, office tower complexes, retail and restaurant districts, parking facilities, entertainment venues, attractions and new hotels, truly representing a comeback story for the City of Champions.”
So much potential, and yet no discussion of the merits of a convention center. Admittedly, that’s in part due to the measure passed nearly two decades ago, which prevents the city from even exploring the issue. (Notably, The Broadmoor — which shortly after the ballot issue passed in 2005 built its own convention center — was the leading backer of that ballot initiative.)
If we aren’t doing everything we can to attract business and expo travelers, how much tourism money are we leaving on the table?
Millions, if the numbers from our neighbors to the south are any indication.
In 2016, the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority studied the economic impact of the Pueblo Convention Center. According to that research, the center drew 154,872 guests for 34,351 room nights between 2012 and 2014. Convention attendees spent some $38.5 million and accounted for $7.1 million in increased earnings during those same three years, and sales and lodging taxes infused the city coffers with $2.5 million.
Shortly after the study results were published, the community embarked on an ambitious, 52,000-square-foot expansion of the center, which includes a new 18,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a partnership with the international entertainment giant, the Professional Bull Riders, and an outdoor plaza.
The $31 million bill is being paid via a combination of public funds, private development and part of a $37.5 million Regional Tourism Act grant.
In a fiscally conservative town like Colorado Springs, it’s easy to understand if there are reservations about such an investment. But let’s face it, these facilities draw events and events draw humans. When people stay the night here, they pack our hotel rooms, dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores, visit our colleges and university, stroll through our museums, meander along our streets and marvel at our region’s profound natural beauty, all the while spending their dollars right here.
Let’s reconvene this discussion and take another look at the possibility of a downtown convention center.