Soapbox

Why it’s time to expand Sacramento’s convention center

Dan Connolly, left, and Brian Palmer, co-owners of Claimstake Brewing in Rancho Cordova, taste beers during the 2016 California Craft Beer Summit at the Sacramento Convention Center. Business groups are backing a plan to expand the center.
Dan Connolly, left, and Brian Palmer, co-owners of Claimstake Brewing in Rancho Cordova, taste beers during the 2016 California Craft Beer Summit at the Sacramento Convention Center. Business groups are backing a plan to expand the center. Sacramento Bee file

After debating the future of the Sacramento Convention Center for more than a decade, it may still be the least understood and most underappreciated asset the city owns.

To most people who live and work in downtown Sacramento, the building is known for hosting trade shows, conventions and big community events. But to hotels, restaurants, bars and nearby businesses, the center means economic sustainability. And to the city, it means millions of dollars each year from hotel taxes.

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider a plan to expand the Convention Center in a smart and careful way. Business and civic leaders have come together to support this plan because it would elevate a civic asset in the heart of our region while helping lay the foundation for continued economic health for decades to come.

The convention center’s core function is to bring visitors to Sacramento. Visitors are responsible for $160 million a year in direct economic impact. Last year, more than 230,000 hotel room nights were booked because of conventions and trade shows.

But the convention center is quickly falling behind its competition and is now at risk of falling into irrelevancy. The demand for meeting and exhibit space vastly exceeds the supply. This deficit puts us at great risk of losing not only current business but new regional and national conventions.

The resulting loss of thousands of visitors would be devastating. This is why the Downtown Sacramento Partnership strongly supports expanding the center.

When the council delayed action last October – at Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s request – on a $170 million plan to renovate and expand the center, the Downtown Partnership had some reservations about not moving forward.

In the months since, Steinberg convened five public meetings to study how to expand exhibit space and meeting rooms and to analyze the competitive landscape and experiences of other cities that recently expanded their convention centers.

The result is a more modest plan that maximizes resources, accounts for how fast we can encourage investors to build new hotels and contemplates the next phase for expansion if the hotel room inventory grows as expected. What’s more, with a modern and expanded convention center, we will maximize synergies with the Community Center Theater and Memorial Auditorium, both significant community assets that are currently being renovated.

For residents concerned about the city’s financial health and debt, the good news is that construction will be financed by leveraging hotel tax revenues with no negative impact on the city’s general fund. What’s more, an expanded convention center can be an impetus for attracting and building new hotels that further grow tax revenue and boost our regional economy.

This is the right time and the right plan. Now is the time to move it forward.

Michael T. Ault is executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. He can be contacted at mault@downtownsac.org.

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