by Brendan M. Lynch | May 01, 2004

Memphis Cook Convention Center

Will the $92 million MCCC revamp pay off?

In January, politicians and business leaders in Memphis, Tenn., finally cut the ribbon on a bigger, better Memphis Cook Convention Center. Now the city and county must grapple with $45 million in budget overruns and legal action tied to a project bedeviled by years of setbacks.
    The MCCC’s expansion, originally estimated to cost $47 million, roughly doubled in price during construction. Local officials blamed the general contractor, Bethesda, Md.-based Clark Construction Group, and withheld pay for about 400 days worth of delays from the firm.
    But the contractor struck back, suing the City of Memphis and Shelby County for $32.4 million, while claiming architectural flaws caused the expansion’s problems. At press time, the suit has some city officials calling for a settlement with Clark, while others insist the contractor ought to be opposed in court.
    In addition, the sluggish pace of construction cost the city more than $277 million in lost bookings, according to a study conducted last year by hospitality consulting firm Pinkowski & Co.
    Despite these woes, the convention facility’s boosters point to the benefits of expansion. The updated venue includes 190,000 square feet of exhibition space, 31 breakout rooms with 74,000 square feet of meeting space, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom and the 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
    “We expect occupancy will rise 2 percent for downtown hotels, based on the demand generated by the expanded building,” said John Oros, executive vice president of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Right now, we’re up for the year.”
    The bulked-up MCCC will host the Regional Airline Association in 2007, the American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy in 2008 and the National Technical Investigators Association in 2009. These groups are expected to spend $4.5 million while in Memphis.
    MCCC advocates also cite another development spurred by the expansion: The 600-room Memphis Marriott Downtown (which connects to the center) has added a 14-story tower, to be unveiled  on June 3. The $14 million project adds 200 guest rooms and 5,100 square feet of meeting space, raising the property’s total to 13,000 square feet.