“We wish wecould have broken ground much sooner, but wemust have a hotel thatbenefits the city.”
-- Reba Pittman Walker, general manager/CEOof the Washington Convention Center Authority,pictured with Bill Hanbury, president/CEO ofthe Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corp.
Bill Hanbury is
patient. He has been waiting six long years for a
headquarters hotel to support the new Washington (D.C.) Convention
Center. Now, it looks like he will have to wait at least another
year, while the final excruciating details of a $550 million
project are hammered out. “We’ve lost business and opportunities
because this hotel has not been built,” says Hanbury, president and
CEO of the Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corp. “Many
groups have decided to take us off their radar until they see a
shovel in the ground. I estimate $200 million worth of convention
business has taken a pass on us over the years.”
Still, Hanbury remains an optimist.
Washington, D.C., he says, can stand with any of the country’s
top-tier convention destinations -- Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago --
despite its lack of a headquarters hotel. He rattles off new hotel
development projects, museum openings and various attractions. He
points to the city’s 80 percent-range hotel occupancy average, its
healthy convention business and the $5 billion in visitor spending
it pulled in for 2005 (the latest year tracked). And yet...
It’s the emerging players waiting in
the wings -- cities like Philadelphia and Indianapolis that have
green-lighted impressive convention center square-footage
expansions and equally hefty new hotel-room product -- that keep
him up at night, Hanbury admits. “This is an incredibly competitive
marketplace,” he notes. “It’s economic cannibalism out there.”
Hurry up and wait
Washington, D.C.’s experience is hardly
an anomaly. The convention center industry is fraught with cities
wrangling and waiting for headquarters hotels, even as they
celebrate the opening of multimillion-dollar convention facilities
and expansions. Portland, which enlarged the Oregon Convention
Center in 2003, is still waiting. So is Palm Beach, Fla., whose $84
million facility opened in 2004. And in Virginia Beach, where the
$207 million Virginia Beach Convention Center finally opened in
May, the negotiations for a companion property continue.
The reality is that a convention
center, no matter where or how state-of-the-art, is at an immediate
disadvantage if it does not have a supporting headquarters hotel.
It’s a fact recited over and over by industry insiders. Yet,
centers are continuing to be built without them.