Dayton Convention Center’s loss could be an opportunity, officials say

The Dayton Convention Center is losing one of its long-time tenants, and some city leaders say they expect finding a new tenant won’t be easy unless the facility undergoes a major renovation.

“I don’t think anyone is going to move into that space unless we do something with the building,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday announced it is relocating to the former PNC headquarters on North Main Street after more than 30 years in the convention center.

The move comes months after a task force recommended increasing the Montgomery County lodgings tax and securing other new sources of revenue to help pay to update the convention center and improve its operations.

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If the city-owned convention center secures funding for renovation, the chamber’s soon-to-be-vacant space presents an opportunity to create new meeting or flex space to make the facility more attractive to event organizers, according to city and chamber leaders.

“It could be re-purposed very easily to give more room or meeting space for groups that come in,” said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The announcement that the chamber is relocating to another downtown building does not significantly impact the future of the convention center, Dayton leaders said.

Whaley said the convention center most importantly needs updated space to hold events and be competitive. She said having tenants is much less of a concern.

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“Whether or not the chamber is a tenant there is really a small issue in what we’re trying to do overall with that building,” Whaley said.

On Wednesday, the Dayton City Commission approved an informal resolution endorsing the recommendations of the Dayton Convention Center Task Force.

The task force recommended investing at least $15.2 million the convention center to keep it competitive and increasing the county hotel/motel tax to pay for the facility improvements.

But raising the lodgings tax requires legislative action at the state level.

Dayton officials and elected leaders say they need the support of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners to get a tax increase passed.

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Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge this week said she still needs to hear from hoteliers and business leaders to get their opinions of raising the lodgings tax before deciding whether to support such a measure.

She said she hopes to have enough information to make a decision soon, likely by the spring.

The convention center is outdated and needs to be completely restructured, and the chamber’s departure is an opportunity to create new meeting or breakout rooms or other uses that would be attractive to clients and event organizers, said Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw, who was co-chair of the convention center task force.

“Would we like to have a tenant in there? Sure, of course,” said Shaw, who also is the chair of the chamber’s economic development committee. “But I think there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities.”

Shaw said the building has good bones but its “skin” needs to be removed and replaced with a more inviting and welcoming exterior.

Shaw said he thinks if the facility is revitalized it can get some new tenants that would improve its marketability like retail, restaurants or a cafe with an outdoor area.

Columbus’ convention center, has a cafe and marketplace, a diner, a convenience store, a gyro place, an ice cream shop, sushi bar, a bar, a Subway and a Starbucks.

The chamber’s move is not about the condition of the convention center — it’s about the needs of the organization, said Parker, who was co-chair of the convention center task force.

The space the chamber is moving to at 8 N. Main Street is new, open and highly visible, and the organization will now be under the same roof as important community partners CityWide Development and the Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority, Parker said.

The chamber began discussing relocating in 2017, long before the task force was convened, Parker said.

The chamber originally moved to the convention center from the Kettering Tower more than 30 years ago because it oversaw the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Parker said it made sense putting the convention and visitors bureau at the convention center so it could partner with the facility’s management to promote, market and sell the space.

The convention and visitors bureau became its own standalone organization in the mid-1990s after a financial scandal.

The convention center does not earn a lot of money from the chamber or its other tenants: the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association and the Home Builders Association of Dayton.

The city on average received $172,600 per year from its leases between 2010 and 2014, according to a convention center needs-assessment report released in 2015.

The Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau leases about 6,522 square feet on the first floor of the facility. The organization pays about $78,000 annually in rent.

The convention and visitors bureau is not considering moving to another location, said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

One of its primary objectives is to secure convention business for Dayton and Montgomery County, Powell said.

The manufacturers association also says it has no plans to relocate.