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VOL. 125 | NO. 224 | Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Convention Center Committee Begins CVB Negotiation Work

By Bill Dries

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The clock is ticking on a contract to run the Memphis Cook Convention Center that would be a sea change in local tourism efforts.

An ad hoc committee of the convention center board met Tuesday to begin planning their side of the negotiations to come with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The convention center board voted last week to begin contract negotiations with the CVB to run the center. Both sides have a month to come to agreement.

The executive committee will make a recommendation to the full convention center board.

No terms have been agreed to at this preliminary stage but board chairman Wayne Tabor said last week the CVB move had two advantages.

It would save money compared to the current contract with SMG and it would eliminate one of the three hoops that someone planning a meeting or convention in Memphis has to go through to use the convention center.

The third hoop in that planning process is the Marriott hotel adjacent to the convention center.

The ad hoc committee discussions got under way the same month the convocation of the Church of God In Christ met in St. Louis.

The movement of the Memphis-based church’s convocation to a city with a larger convention center and more hotel rooms is an example of the competition, especially in an economic recession, to get and keep conventions.

The Memphis CVB, as well as SMG, has been in the thick of the competition and the negotiations for incentives.

Until the move was made to St. Louis, COGIC had been Memphis’ largest annual meeting.

St. Louis has a convention center, America’s Convention Center Complex, that is run by its version of a convention and visitors bureau.

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) not only operates the convention complex. It also books sporting and special events into the Edward Jones Dome, the arena that is part of the complex.

It lured COGIC away with $1 million in added convention incentives that persuaded the church’s leadership to sign a three-year agreement.

The St. Louis group touted the COGIC move in its fiscal year 2010 annual report.

The St. Louis CVC’s structure suggests what is to come in Memphis will probably still involve some private consulting firms.

For instance, the St. Louis CVC has hired a private company to manage housekeeping and set up functions in the complex, the physical work of actually setting up a meeting or convention in the center.

The goal of the Memphis contract talks is to have an agreement by the end of the year.

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