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Opinion: Convention Center Hotel Cancellation Worst Downtown News of 2014

Walker Evans Walker Evans Opinion: Convention Center Hotel Cancellation Worst Downtown News of 2014Rendering by The DLR Group, provided courtesy of Wagenbrenner Development.
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We’re not quite half way through 2014, but I’m going to go ahead and call it. The decision made last week by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (FCCFA) to abandon a massive private development expansion is going to be the biggest blow to Downtown Columbus in 2014.

It’s also the biggest Downtown letdown since Governor Kasich cancelled the 3C corridor rail project (which would have had a Convention Center station) in 2010.

Actually, it’s probably the worst news to hit the Convention Center area since 1976. That was the year that the demolition of Union Station began, and local leaders exhibited extreme shortsightedness in nailing the coffin closed on passenger rail service in Columbus.

Echoes of similar shortsightedness are ringing again loudly in 2014 as local leaders have decided that it’s in the best interest of the Convention Center and Downtown Columbus to turn away large-scale mixed-use hotel development that would bring additional jobs, hotel rooms, retail and vibrancy to the core of our city.

Instead, our elected and appointed officials have chosen to spend $125 million (that will be paid for through bed taxes) on a much smaller renovation project that would add 36,000 square feet of space to the 1.7 million square foot Convention Center (a 2.1 percent increase in total space) and give the rest of the building a modern makeover. The renovation has yet to be approved by Columbus City Council, and hopefully it gets rejected.

After the leadership at the convention center requested private development proposals, and received four of them (we featured two of them, HERE and HERE), the lack of rational reasoning why the proposed projects would be abandoned are leaving locals scratching their heads. Especially with the economic environment for development being hot right now and private funding being already lined up to break ground quickly.

Some have speculated that the construction of a new hotel would compete directly with the FCCFA-owned Hilton hotel, which took the organization 10 years to figure out a funding model and construct. But even with the 500 rooms that The Hilton has added, Columbus still ranks dead-last for total number of connected convention rooms when measured against peer regional cities such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville. Columbus needs more hotel rooms if it wants bigger conventions like the Democratic and Republican national meetings that the city has recently applied for.

Some have pointed out that the private-development expansion would have removed approximately 70,000 square feet of space (4.1% of the total 1.7 million square feet of space). That certainly would not be a benefit for the Convention Center, which already is too small for some larger events. But that could easily be remedied with expansions to other parts of the building. As Brent Warren pointed out in March, there are multiple wasted space opportunities around the building where expansions are possible. His article doesn’t even take into account the massive surface parking lot to the east of the Convention Center where an expansion could grow convention space by 50 to 100 percent in the long term, or the idea of growing vertically over top of the mostly single-story building.

Others have speculated that the termination of the project was purely political. The proposed development was originated by local private developers and therefore may not have gotten the blessings of certain local leaders, and the cancellation could have come from those who felt left out of the loop during the process. If true, that would be incredibly unfortunate that bruised egos could trump the needs of our growing city.

Regardless of whatever the reason(s) may be, the fact remains that the project cancellation is bad news for Downtown, bad news for convention-goers, bad news for residents, bad news for The Short North, bad news for The North Market, bad news for Experience Columbus, bad news for Nationwide Insurance and other Downtown employers, bad news for the growing vibrancy of High Street, and bad news for our local leadership who have chosen to wear this black eye. Barring some sort of major “Act of God” catastrophe in the second half of this year, this is undoubtably the worst news for Downtown Columbus of 2014.

So… with the worst news of 2014 out of the way, is there an early contender for the best news of 2014?

That all depends on whether or not local leaders are willing to reverse this decision and put this private development project back on track. If you want to voice your opinion on this decision, call or email the board members of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, call or email Columbus City Council members, and call or email the office of Mayor Michael Coleman.

For ongoing discussion on this project, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.


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