By Todd G. DicksonLas Cruces Bulletin
While the Las Cruces Convention Center may have become a great venue for many local events, city officials are asking why the 55,000-square-foot facility isn’t attracting more business from out of town.
That was the questiondiscussed at a Las Cruces City Council work session Monday, Aug. 26.
“Things have not worked out as we thought it would have, in that the convention center is not bringing in as much outside business as we would have hoped,” said City Manager Robert Garza.
Philip San Filippo, executive director of the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), said he understands the concern that the convention center should be more focused on bringing in new business and less focused on the local market. One of the ways CVB hopes to help turn this around is the creation of a new convention sales manager position, he said.
Despite perceptions of the convention center’s business, hotel occupancy is up, San Filippo said, and Las Cruces will be attracting five new conventions in the coming year and another eight in the following year.
David Hicks, manager of the convention center for Global Spectrum, the company that has overseen operations for almost three years, said the center is seeing growth in new conventions slated.
“We’ve been building momentum with the booking of conventions over the past few months, including Movimiento Familiar Cristiano Catolico’s 2014 Convention, the New Mexico American Choral Directors Association Youth And Children’s All-State Festival 2014 and the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande Convention,” Hicks said. “The changes coming down the pike will help to ensure that convention bookings keep coming for Las Cruces, and Global Spectrum is please to continue our relationship with the City of Las Cruces.”
Garza told the council that the negotiations with Global Spectrum have been “very productive conversations.”
Councillor Gill Sorg said he wants to see a change for the convention center to be a force in the local economy that brings in more gross receipts taxes.
A $2.50 per room surcharge pays for debtservice on construction of the $26 million building, and lodger tax pays for its operations.
Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas said one of the challenges for attracting conventions is that they are often held at different locations each year.
San Filippo concurred, saying conventions are a market in which you have to seek out new business each year. That’s why it’s not so much that Global isn’t meeting its contract, it’s just that the convention center doesn’t seem to be attracting more new business. He said part of the problem is that current efforts to attract conventions are not coordinated.
San Filippo said part of the challenge for Las Cruces is the perception that El Paso is so far away in terms of being the closest major airport. That’s actually not the case, he said, when you consider that many big-city convention centers are far away from urban airports.
Ron Camuñez, a resident, said officials should be realistic about how the sluggish economy has affected conventions in the last several years. Camuñez noted that he felt the convention center wasn’t designed with enough break-out room.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he felt the convention center was built at the right size, though it can only hold 1,400 to 1,600 people for single, large gatherings.
Garza noted that the building is designed for possible future expansion, once some debt is retired.
Janet Honek of Sunspot Solar urged officials to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
The local community has needed the convention center for a number of local events, she said, and the center hosted a locally organized outdoor expo that was very successful. The convention center provides a venue for local people to create events that can become destination events for the city, she said.