Produced by Lynn Hulsey

Report: $28M needed to fix convention center

Consultant says Dayton should outsource management of aging center.

A consultant recommends that the city of Dayton consider giving up control of the Dayton Convention Center to a joint Montgomery County-Dayton authority and find new funding sources to pay for upgrades that could cost as much as $28 million.

The city should also consider outsourcing management of the convention center to a professional management company or the Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), according to an executive summary by Tampa-based Crossroads Consulting Services.

The company was paid $73,500 for the study commissioned by the CVB, the city of Dayton and Montgomery County to come up with ideas for the deficit-ridden 43-year-old city-owned facility located at 22 E. Fifth Street in Dayton.

In February 2015 an investigation by this newspaper found that the center was chronically in the red and losing business to other cities with better-funded, more modern venues. At the time the building’s broken escalator had been closed for six months.

Crossroads Consulting found that the building is in overall good condition but is dated and suffering from deferred maintenance.

Funding for upgrades and improving operations could come from the public — either through an increase in the lodging tax paid by hotel guests or by setting up a Tax Increment Financing District or Tourism Improvement District, according to the consultant.

The alternatives, according to Crossroads, are continued deficits and loss of more convention business to competing centers in places like Sharonville, Cincinnati and other cities.

“Remaining status quo will have a detrimental impact on the City of Dayton as well as hoteliers, restaurateurs, and other area businesses if DCC event activity continues to decline,” the consultant’s report said. “Any investment requires a substantial commitment but one that would result in a direct, long-term return.”

If renovations and changes in operations occur, the city’s operating deficit could be reversed and there would be an increase in the center’s economic impact and tax revenue for state and local governments, the consultant said.

Spokeswomen for the city and county said officials are reviewing the report.

“We expect there will be more conversation about the future of the building with the city commission, the convention and visitors bureau and the many stakeholders,” said Cathy Petersen, spokeswoman for Montgomery County.

One the greatest hurdles identified both by the consultant and by the building’s chief event marketer is the lack of nearby hotel space in downtown Dayton.

Currently, the only two hotels within walking distance are the Crowne Plaza across the street and the Dayton Grand, which currently has limited rooms available due to a renovation, said Jacquelyn Y. Powell, president and chief executive of the CVB.

“This has been a struggle for us for years,” she said.

Powell said attracting hotels is a “chicken-and-egg” thing. Developers want to see business demand before building, but the lack of hotels decreases demand when conventioneers chose another city that has a venue with hotels nearby.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city is working to bring amenities like hotels downtown and she is encouraged by the announcement that a Fairfield Inn and Suites is going to be built in the Water Street development, the first new downtown hotel in years.

And interviews with people on Thursday at the Interchurch Holiness Convention, which brings in 6,000 people to the convention center each year, found that they are pleased with the convention center itself as well as the staff services. But several said the lack of nearby hotel space is an issue.

Mandy Dean said she and her husband have six children and had to go to Beavercreek to find enough room in a hotel.

“It would be really nice if we had something that would accomodate a large family,” Dean said.

Derek McIntire, of Middleberg, Penn., said he also would like to be within walking distance but overall the center “meets our needs very well. The staff is great.”

A group of teenagers lounging on couches did have a common concern, as they struggled to keep their smart phones connected to the building wi-fi.

“The facility could be greatly improved with a comfortable lounging area with great Wi-Fi,” said Brett Dodd, 17, of Sharmen, Texas.

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