Proposed convention center upgrade intended to keep Memphis competitive

The Memphis Cook Convention Center is over 40 years old, and if it doesn't get a facelift soon, the city runs the risk of losing big business according to Kevin Kane, President of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. A proposal currently before City Council asks for a $50 million to $55 million upgrade of the convention center with a longterm vision to expand west all the way to the Mississippi River basin. 
"Fedex, AutoZone, St. Jude--they're big users of that building. And you know Nashville is begging to get them to come 200 miles down the road and experience their new facility which obviously has a lot more bells and whisteles and capacity," Kane said, mentioning the Music City Center, our sister city's two-year old $585 million convention center.  
To pay for the upgrades, the MCVB is seeking a 1.8 percent increase in the hotel-motel tax, bringing the total to 3.5 percent.
It is also asking the City Council to create a Tourism Improvement District to recoup the $3 million of the MCVB budget that will be redirected to paying off FedExForum bonds starting in 2017. If approved, hotels within the Tourism Improvement District could generate between $3.5 million and $4 million a year by instituting a $2 a night fee on hotel room stays. 
"It would create a marketing and promotional fund that would got o the MCVD to market memphis as a destination," Kane added.
Conventions and meetings held at the convention center bring in an economic impact of $80 million a year and account for 70,000 to 100,000 hotel room stays a year, Kane added.
The short-term plan includes exterior upgrades to give the concrete building a more contemporary look with a combination of steel, glass and LED lighting. Inside, everything will be upgraded from technology and lighting to restroom facilities. Some behind the scenes work would be done as well for deferred maintenance and updated energy maintenance systems. 
The ambitious long-term plan could cost more than $900 million. $500 million would account for extending the convention center over Front Street, the trolley tracks, train tracks and the expressway exit ramp for Riverside Drive. A private development for two full-scale hotels could mean another $400 million in investment. 
City Council's Economic Development & Tourism Committee approved both revenue measures. The proposal will go before its third reading in early September. 
If everything passes, Kane expects that construction would be underway this time next year and perpetuate for 12 to 18 months. 

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.
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