VOL. 125 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 11, 2010
Cook Convention Center Board Chooses CVB Bid
By Bill Dries
Between now and the end of the year, the board of the Memphis Cook Convention Center and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) hope to come to terms on a contract for the CVB to run the convention center.
The board this week chose the CVB’s bid from three proposals for future management of the nearly 40-year-old facility, which has undergone one major and several smaller renovations in recent years.
The decision represents a change in management from SMG, which has operated the center for the city and county for close to 20 years.
The time span has included a $100 million 2003 renovation and expansion that included the demolition of the old auditorium and construction of the new Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. An addition to the adjacent Marriott hotel followed.
Problems with the renovation work on the convention center itself led to years of court litigation.
Convention Center board chairman Wayne Tabor said the three proposals, including bids by SMG and Global Spectrum, were all attractive but the CVB proposal was a unanimous choice. The board put out a request for proposals (RFP) that drew the responses from the three entities.
“We think that they (CVB) have the passion to sell more conventions and increase the business there. They were very, very passionate in their presentation,” he said.
“There is some financial savings. I can’t go into detail because we are negotiating now,” Tabor said of the contract talks to come. “Financially for the city and county and the center, it makes sense. It saves some tax dollars for the community. It brings the sales effort for convention and tourism all under one roof.”
A large part of the work the bureau does is in marketing the city as a convention site. And the bureau is already a direct part of the process of bringing a convention to the city including incentives.
The convention business is competitive with other cities building new facilities and offering incentives to land new meetings. In the current recession, that competition has intensified as meeting planners look for added incentives or consider cancelling meetings altogether.
The Memphis convention center hosts over 500,000 visitors each year and the conventions and meetings account for over 100,000 hotel room nights annually.
It features 350,000 square feet of space including The Cannon Center.
A contract to run the convention center would be another milestone in the expansion and strengthening of the CVB that began in the early 1980s with the creation of a tourism superfund to bolster the bureau and recognize tourism as a part of the city’s economy.
Under the current structure, a meeting planner negotiates to hold an event at the center with the Marriott Hotel, SMG and the bureau. A contract for the CVB to run the center would eliminate one step in the process and would follow the lead of CVBs running convention centers in other cities including St. Louis and Richmond, Va. Nashville’s convention center is run directly by the metro government.
Any contract terms agreed to by the convention center board would have to be approved by the Memphis and Shelby County mayors, who would ultimately sign any contract. Both mayors and the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council have representatives on the board.
Tabor said the goal in the talks is to have new management in place by the start of the calendar year.
“It’s not a set-in-stone date. I imagine there’s going to be some transition between SMG and the bureau,” he added. “There will be some time there that they will still be involved.”