by Jonathan Vatner | February 01, 2004

Jeff Farina of Benchmark

Due to a dearth of willing private lenders, many smaller cities have begun to finance conference centers.
   Benchmark Hospitality, based in The Woodlands, Texas, is working with Tempe and Flagstaff, both in Arizona, and New Brunswick, N.J., on building new publicly financed conference centers.
   The demand simply was not big enough for a convention center, said Michael Kerski,  Flagstaff’s redevelopment manager, “but there is a demand for a ballroom that can fit 1,000-plus people.”
   Niagara Falls, N.Y., also is using public funds for a center opening this spring, and Arlington, Va., has long-term plans for one, to be partially financed by a 2 percent bed- tax increase. 
   Economic justification for these projects often is up for debate, according to Dave Arnold, executive vice president PKF Consulting in San Francisco. “Not every city needs a conference center,” he said.
   Yet, sources say planners are now reconsidering smaller cities, which can be easier to access and navigate, particularly for those within driving distance. “Regional locations have become very appealing,” said Jeff Farina, chief development officer for Benchmark Hospitality. “There isn’t so much a fear of travel as [concern about] the hassle factor.”