Suburbs question need for tax bailout of Dayton Convention Center

Criticism is continuing about a plan to save the Dayton Convention Center with the help of a countywide lodging-tax increase.

Investing more money into the Dayton-owned, downtown facility — especially through a tax increase – to make it a regional attraction is a waste of public money, Miami Twp. Trustee John Morris said in a letter to this news organization. He wrote that “the city should let the convention center die.”

“They believe if they pump millions of dollars into their failed convention center that they will bring the era of thriving regional conventions back from the dead,” Morris wrote.

The city of Dayton is seeking a provision in the state budget bill that would let Montgomery County form an authority to oversee the convention center, local officials said. It’s a model that has been used in other cities.

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The state budget bill is tentatively set to be voted on this week. Under the current proposal, the panel created by the county would be able to levy a 3 percent lodging-tax increase, effectively doubling the current county rate. Local jurisdictions also have a 3 percent tax, officials said.

The increase would have the heaviest impact on the suburbs, which have more than 80 percent of lodging rooms in county, Miami Twp. Trustee Donald Culp has said.

The bed-tax hike was one of eight Dayton Convention Center Task Force recommendations adopted by the Dayton City Commission, officials said.

But Culp said there was no communication with his jurisdiction for a proposal that he says will create more taxes in his community without it seeing a direct benefit from them.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley apologized for the lack of communication with suburban leaders, calling it an oversight. Whaley said she would be a strong advocate for communities like Miami Twp. – which has 27 percent of the lodging rooms in the county – having a say in running the convention center.

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But Morris said Monday he thought Whaley’s comments about suburban leaders’ future roles with the convention center are “an effort to address the issue after the horse has left the barn.”

“My opinion is that the whole idea of renovating the convention center needs to be re-evaluated and is, in fact, a boondoggle, a waste of money,” Morris said Monday.”The convention center needs to be scrapped, not rehabilitated.

“And it definitely doesn’t need to be rehabilitated on the backs of the taxpayers of the suburban communities and those visiting our hotels,” he said. “We don’t need to ruin our hospitality industry in an effort to save a facility that is long past its prime and is not a worthy investment of tax dollars.”

Attempts to reach Whaley for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

“The Dayton Convention Center in current form is also a documented failure and has been losing money for many years, supported by the City with tax dollars that should be allocated to services that actually benefit its citizens,” Morris wrote.

Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Phillip Parker, who served as co-chair of the convention center task force, disagrees.

“Our recommendation said, don’t bulldoze the convention center,” said Parker, noting demolition would cost about $8 million to $10 million. “We think it’s got good bones. But you need to work on it. But you also need some structural changes to the way you do business.”

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Among those changes is the county’s ability to establish an convention center authority with taxing power.

Huber Heights City Manager Rob Schommer said he sees a need for “a thorough review of the impact on the outer-ring municipalities” and “their hotels for justification of a blanket tax on the entire county to subsidize” a downtown Dayton facility.

With about 440 hotel/motel rooms in Huber Heights, “our concern would be if this tax is solely for subsidizing a single facility when the concept of convention and event incentivization has equal or greater impact and return for facilities such as UD Arena, the new fairgrounds and the Stuart and Mimi Rose Music Center,” Schommer said.

“If it is a county-wide district, then the justification and use of the funds generated by the county-wide tax should be available to the municipalities who have invested in and provide services for the hotels who pay the tax,” he said.

Morris also mentioned UD Arena – as well as Sinclair and the Mandalay Banquet Center – as facilities that can accommodate large events.

But those locations’ capacities cannot compare to the Dayton Convention Center, which is in the 2,500- to 3,000-person range, Parker said. The Mandalay, Sinclair and the Presidential Banquet Center can hold about 550 people each, he said.

“Once you get past about 500 to 600, there’s no other facility that’s at least in our immediate area – Dayton and Montgomery County – that can host something where we get larger turnouts than that,” Parker said.

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