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
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.”