New Center For Cleveland Judged Feasible

Cleveland — The chances of this city getting a new or expanded convention center entered a new chapter this month with the release of a study indicating that a market does exist for such a facility.

The report, authorized by the city's Convention Facilities Authority (CFA) and conducted by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, predicts that Cleveland would attract hundreds of thousands of added convention and trade show visitors to a new center.

Still, the recommendation was scaled back from a previous one in 2000. That study, also by PwC, recommended a new center with 400,000 usable square feet, while this month's study — reflecting the rapid increase in, and competition from, new convention center space nationwide — examined the effects of facilities with 200,000 and 300,000 usable square feet.

Even with the smaller of the two options, the report says Cleveland would attract 30 more trade shows a year.

"While there are still many decisions to be made, we now know that the industry is recovering and, with the right size and programming, Cleveland can effectively compete for convention business and complement our destination attractions," said William Reidy, chairman of the CFA, formed last year to study the issue.

A new facility would replace the 278,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center, which opened downtown in 1922, and is considered an attractive but obsolete facility for trade shows, with its small footprint and multiple-columned exhibit space.

"The current facility drives convention planners elsewhere despite our great location and superior amenities," said Bruce Harris, president of Conferon Global Services, based in nearby Twinsburg, Ohio. "It is currently a very difficult sell."

"Without question," Harris said, "with a new convention center, my company and many other companies would look favorably upon bringing more events to Cleveland."

To boost a new convention center, an adjoining 600-room hotel should also be built, the report said.

Possible sites for the new center include the existing locale, which would be a renovation, or on the Cuyahoga River waterfront for a new facility.

Cleveland has another convention facility, the International Exposition & Conference Center, or I-X Center, 10 miles from downtown adjacent to the airport, with 900,000 square feet of exhibit space. Under the new plan, it either would be torn down or used as a complement to a new center.

Building a new center has been a tough sell in Cleveland because of funding priorities. Opponents point to deteriorating schools as a first need.

The CFA hopes to choose a convention center site by June and figure out a financing plan by July.

Contact Christopher Hosford at [email protected]