By Patrick B. McGuigan
A 2009 report prepared for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce may or may not have out-of-date analyses and conclusions concerning a possible new convention center for our community. But the report is again the subject of contemporary news reports and speculation.
The document has been a source of speculation because it is focused, according to sponsors, on evaluating Oklahoma City’s “competitive position in the convention and visitor industry.”
Full title of the document is “Feasibility Analysis for Potential Development of New Downtown Convention Facilities in Oklahoma City.” The local chamber financed the study.
Although an executive summary (21 pages long) was circulated widely four years ago, the city council has never asked that the full report be made available to the public or the city news media. The Council recently rebuffed a move, led by Ward 2 Council Member Ed Shadid, asking that the report be opened to public scrutiny.
Shadid’s request to allow wider examination of the document comes in the midst of his campaign for the city’s top job. Dr. Shadid is challenging incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett in the March 4 election.
The city chamber has never released the report or posted it on its website.
Last week, this reporter requested – on behalf of The City Sentinel newspaper and two online news organizations, CapitolBeatOK (based at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City) and Oklahoma Watchdog (an arm of Watchdog.org, a national online news organization) – a copy of the full report.
Chamber staff has made available an executive summary of the 2009 document. This reporter will continue to ask for a copy of the full report, and will report on its contents if the copy is forthcoming.
Although paid for by the Chamber, a private association, the report was made available to city officials for purposes of considering convention center expansion or new construction. For this reason this writer believes openness about the contents is in the broad public interest.
A reminder: This news story is based on examination of an executive summary, not the full report. If a copy is made available, a follow-up news story will be prepared.
The executive summary said the report focused on the Cox Business Services Convention Center (CCC for short), its exhibit and meeting spaces, ballroom facilities and parking garage. The stated objective was to assess Oklahoma City’s place in the convention and tradeshow market, incorporating reference to the 32,000 square foot (floor space) arena.
Based on hundreds of interviews, according to the summary, authors concluded strengths for the city included nearby downtown and Bricktown developments, an authentic Western and Native American heritage, the then-new Thunder franchise of the National Basketball Association, the area’s affordable cost structure and the range of attractions and “amenities” for visitors.
“Challenges” facing the city included “brand awareness” for the city, the size and quality of the CCC, limited airline accessibility and limited supply of convention-quality hotels.
At one point the summary characterized exhibit space as of “poor quality.” The summary also said that divided management of exhibit and meeting/ballroom spaces “leads to contracting challenges that are not present in competitive markets.”
The summary pointed out that while the convention and tradeshow industry had enjoyed long-term growth, it always suffered during economic contractions. (“The Great Recession” — a term not used in the summary, began in 2008.) The summary’s authors assumed long-term recovery could be anticipated.
Authors pointed out that businesses were at that time reducing the number of personnel attending industry conventions, a trend fed in part by increased travel costs and consolidation of airline routes.
An analysis of 13 roughly comparable metropolitan areas led the authors to conclude Oklahoma City had insufficient capacity to anticipate much future growth.
The report also pointed out that capacity at the Renaissance Hotel (396 rooms) fell below average capacity (770) at other convention “headquarters hotels.” Further, the city had less capacity at facilities within a half-mile of CCC.
The summary said authors of the report, after market analysis, said the city’s perception as a destination point had improved, but that greater capacity in both exhibit space and hotel availabilities would be needed to improve the city’s performance in the convention and tradeshow industry.
The executive summary sketched a possible two-phased expansion of convention space and better facilities.
As for the “headquarter hotel” issue, the report outlined two approaches to possible financing. First, a public sector entity could provide subsidies to a private developer to assure “a necessary return on investment.” Or, second, a public sector entity could take necessary steps “to issue tax exempt debt” for a hotel project. This part of the analysis assumed a possible two-stage expansion in hotel capacity to feed the needs of the convention facility.
The summary projected positive annual returns on convention facility construction.
A reminder: This news story is based on examination of an executive summary, not the full report. If a copy of the full report is made available, a follow-up news story will be prepared.
In the “MAPS 3” referenda subsequently held, voters approved construction of a convention facility, although the sufficiency of disclosure about costs has been criticized. Voters did not consider a publicly subsidized hotel facility.
Critics of taxpayer support for a downtown hotel say it will require either significant recurring tax support or significant tax-backed debt, and that failure to reach optimistic income projections would leave a debt legacy reaching millions of dollars.
Dr. Shadid and allies are circulating ballot initiatives which would, if ballot status is gained and voters give approval to both measures, prohibit use of sales taxes for a new downtown convention center and hotel. The second would end the MAPS 3 sales tax in 2015, instead of in 2018.
A story about the initiatives is printed on page 8 of this week’s print edition of The City Sentinel, and will also be posted online.