by Elise Schoening | September 11, 2019
The Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year. To ensure its continued growth in an increasingly competitive market, a consulting firm has recommended the addition of a hotel nearby, improved use of adjacent outdoor space and the creation of a local convention and visitors bureau to help promote the facility.
The report, initiated by the Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees the 540,000-square-foot center, came in the wake of the facility having lost two major events last year -- the Connecticut International Auto Show and the Hartford Boat Show -- to the Mohegan Sun's new $80 million Earth Expo & Convention Center. 

"No one wants to hear about more money going into government buildings these days," said Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the CRDA. "But if we don't do it, what are the consequences? We did not have to confront the Mohegan convention center before. They grabbed the auto show. They grabbed the boat show."

Johnson Consulting was commissioned by the CRDA to develop a strategic plan for the next five to 10 years and offered eight major recommendations, according to the Hartford Courant. At the top of the list is construction of a new 400-room hotel, which would supplement the existing attached 409-room Marriott Hartford Downtown. The new property would cost an estimated $120 million and generate $25 million in annual sales, according to the plan. Johnson Consulting recommends it be partially subsidized by the public and opened in the next five years.

Other recommendations include adding a new CVB dedicated to promoting Hartford and backed by a state-funded operating budget of $3 million to $5 million per year. What was once the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau has become the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau over the years and has developed more of a statewide focus.

"Compared to competitive destinations, there is virtually no outbound sales function marketing the [convention center] and Hartford," noted the report. "This effort will significantly enhance the penetration of citywide events and provide a consistent resource for selling the destination."

The convention center could also benefit from creating outdoor walkways and plazas that connect to the Connecticut Science Center and feature restaurants and food concessions to increase foot traffic. Additional recommendations include investing in the latest high-speed Internet access and adding more networking and collaboration spaces to the facility.