Amarillo, TX - Monday evening Amarillo city leaders heard a new perspective about centering downtown development around the Amarillo Civic Center.
The Tea Party Patriots invited Professor Heywood Sanders, an expert on convention centers, to speak with the Amarillo City Council, Downtown Amarillo Inc. and the Amarillo Local Government Corporation about recent convention center trends at a public forum. Sanders is a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He recently published Convention Center Follies, which contradicts claims that convention centers contribute to economic development.
Bringing more conventions to Amarillo is what sparked the downtown redevelopment movement nearly a decade ago. The Amarillo Convention & Visitors Council has said it cannot apply to hundreds of conventions each year because there is not a hotel across the street.
According to Sanders' research, the supply of convention center space across the country is now much larger than the demand for conventions and fewer people are attending them. Sanders said there is also a surplus of cities considering building a convention center hotel because of strategic downtown studies similar to the one Amarillo did back in 2008. He said the surplus could hurt Amarillo's future endeavors to attract conventions.
Sanders also called out Amarillo's downtown hotel feasibility study by Hunden Strategic Partners for having faulty projection numbers and for not having numbers that prove a need for a downtown hotel. "While you have lost business at the Civic Center, you don't necessarily have it because of a lack of downtown hotels," said Sanders.
Those heading downtown development efforts countered by saying the catalyst project is no longer just about attracting conventions but about revitalizing the entire downtown area. "This is not a silver bullet, this is just the next step in what is a well thought out plan to rejuvenate all of downtown. Not this building, not that building, not Polk Street, but all of downtown," said Richard Brown, the president of the Local Government Corporation.
Brown also reiterated that the majority of the hotel, $44.2 million, is privately funded.
One public speaker asked Sanders how Amarillo should improve downtown if a convention center hotel is not the answer. Sanders said he believes the city needs to focus on improving the center of downtown around Polk Street before taking up bigger catalyst projects.