Tourism executives outlined their next steps on Monday to expand the Charlotte Convention Center, setting up a vote later this month that would provide $8.5 million to finish design and prep work.
City Council is expected to approve the request at its Sept. 25 meeting. Construction would begin in May 2019 and be finished early in 2021, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
The $110 million expansion would add 26,000 square feet of smaller meeting rooms and 15,000 square feet to host pre-event receptions.
Tom Murray, visitors authority CEO, told council on Monday that the requested projects started with an 18-month study completed in 2015 by consultant Jones Lang LaSalle Destination Services. Priorities in that study included enhanced meeting space, increasing so-called breakout areas for smaller events and creating a more inviting and convenient pedestrian connection between the convention center and the rest of uptown.
In addition to the expanded meeting areas, the project includes a pedestrian bridge over Stonewall Street linking the convention center with The Westin — the city’s primary convention hotel — and Stonewall Station. Crescent Communities expects to open Stonewall Station, which includes a 47,000-square-foot Whole Foods grocery store and 459 luxury apartments, next year.
Several council members asked Murray for assurances the project won’t exceed its $110 million budget. Randy Harrington, a city government financial executive, told council the existing convention center fund has capacity to pay for the improvements. He also said the city has carved out $110 million and isn’t allowing for overruns. Murray pledged to reduce or eliminate features to stay within the designated budget.
In January, council approved spending $1.6 million for the first phase of design. TVS Design finished that portion, accounting for 35% of the design work, in July.
TVS Design and Holder/Edison Foard, a construction management firm, will handle the remaining design and pre-construction work if council backs the proposal later this month. A committee comprised of representatives from the city’s engineering and property management and the visitors authority recommended Holder/Edison Foard in May.
The design phases and spending, totaling a combined $10 million, are included in the $110 million total cost. In early 2019, council will be asked to approve the bulk of the construction budget, according to the updated proposal discussed Monday.
The convention center opened in 1995. TVS Design was the architect of the original building.
With the additional meeting space, the convention center would triple its meeting capacity. Fifteen new meeting rooms measuring 1,800 to 2,600 square feet each will offer a range of options, including combinations allowing for as much as 10,000 square feet for a large-scale event. The convention center has 278,000 square feet of exhibition space, 50,000 square feet of meetings rooms and a combined 60,000 square feet divided between two ballrooms.
Murray told council members that the consultant determined meeting space will create more demand and value than adding to the exhibit halls. Another challenge for exhibit space: there isn’t any immediately available property for exhibit expansion.
LaWana Mayfield, a council Democrat, criticized the lack of shared expenses between the city and The Westin for the pedestrian bridge over Stonewall Street. Murray said hotels and restaurants, including The Westin, are already paying for the convention center expansion through food and hotel taxes that will be tapped to pay for the $110 million project.
Mayfield pressed the point, saying The Westin would receive benefits its competitors won’t. Murray told me after the presentation that all hotels would benefit because the pedestrian bridge will help attract meetings and conventions, benefiting various hotels in the area. Upgrading and expanding the convention center will help Charlotte compete with similarly sized cities such as Indianapolis, Austin and Nashville, the consultant and the visitors authority predict.
Murray said it will take three to five years for additional business created by the expansion to repay the $110 million cost.
Features include a more open, glass-fronted exterior on the Stonewall Street side of the convention center and an architectural “frame” feature as part of the pedestrian bridge designed to provide unique views and create a distinct element.
No increase is needed on the restaurant and hotel taxes to pay for the project, Murray said. The convention center portion of those taxes is limited to marketing, maintaining and improving the convention center, repaying $75 million worth of renovations at the NFL stadium and helping pay for a proposed amateur sports complex.
To date, nothing has been proposed for an amateur sports center, but that will likely change later this week when the economic development committee begins discussions on amateur sports.
Charlotte Business Journal