Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Convention center not feasible for Decatur, consultants find

By Deangelo McDaniel Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

A Georgia-based consulting firm recommended that Decatur suspend its pursuit of a hotel/conference center.

In a feasibility study, Jill Bidwell of PKF Consulting said the “current market conditions do not appear to be supportive” of this type of facility in the River City.

“To be honest, I was surprised, but at least we know where we are at,” said Tami Reist of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s Balanced Economy Committee commissioned the $15,000 study.

Jim Page, vice president of public policy and business development for the chamber, said the group was looking for ways to diversify Decatur’s economy, which is heavily dependent on industry.

Trying to lure a convention center to the River City was the committee’s priority, Page said.

The study, however, cited several reasons why a convention center is likely not a good fit for Decatur at this time.

The report said Decatur’s occupancy rate for its existing hotels was in the upper 40 to mid 50 percentile, with an average daily rate of between $75 and $79.

PKF visited hotels in Florence, Huntsville and Franklin, Tenn., where the average daily rate was in the low $100 range.

“This most likely would not support their (the hotel/conference center’s) development cost if built today,” Bidwell wrote.

She said only 18 percent of the associations surveyed said they would be “likely or very likely to use an appropriately-sized convention center and full-service” hotel in Decatur.

Most of the associations also said they preferred having their meetings in beach locations.

PKF evaluated three sites for a possible convention center. They included downtown near the Holiday Inn, river property in Point Mallard Park adjacent to the golf course and the proposed Sweetwater mixed-use development near Interstate 65 and Alabama 20.

“It is evident that the optimum site for any such facility would be as part of the Sweetwater development,” Bidwell wrote.

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