Friday, January 28, 2011

Tourism to pay $20,000 for study

By Paul Huggins
The Decatur Daily

Decatur tourism officials approved spending up to $20,000 for a conference center study they said hopefully would settle the decades-old debate.

Wade Weaver, treasurer for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, made the motion for the expenditure Thursday, saying the study will stand apart from previous studies because it has no agenda.

The study, to be conducted by Colliers PFK Consulting USA, will tell whether Decatur can support a conference center and if so, what size and the best location for it, Weaver said.

Decatur officials have conducted similar studies in the past and even had drawings made for one downtown idea in the 1990s. Conference center discussions often brought on debate about whether it should be downtown or on the river, should it include an arena and would it attract a quality hotel as a joint venture.

The topic resurfaced in 2010 out of the formation of the One Vision, One Voice, One Morgan organization that brought community leaders together to explore improving quality-of-life issues, such as maintaining a balanced economy. After interviewing hundreds of local business and industry representatives, they learned Decatur needed larger meeting space and was missing out on conventions that could fill local hotels.

“This study could come back and tell us we can’t support one,” Weaver said, but he added it also could clearly show Decatur can support one and make it much easier to attract a private investor. “We’re chasing a hotel developer to do this thing.”

Jim Page, vice president of public policy and business development for the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said the new study’s findings would be a recruitment tool for investors, especially because it removes one of their up-front costs to do their own study.

“And it’s going to carry more weight when we can hand them a study by a reputable firm that doesn’t have a dog in the fight,” he said.

Tami Reist, visitors bureau president, said her former employers used the same firm when deciding to build the Courtyard by Marriott on Beltline Road Southwest, and its recommendation for number of rooms was on target with what the hotel has accommodated.

Colliers PFK’s estimated it would cost them $17,000 to conduct the study over an eight-week period. The bureau board gave Reist the option to add $3,000 to the study should the project require more work than anticipated. The board will pay for the study out of bureau reserves.

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