Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

City Manager Expanded Convention Center needed to boost local economy

We are fortunate to live in Bloomington and Monroe County in a community that is an attractive destination for tourists and visitors and such a great place to live. People come from far and wide to take advantage of our rich arts and culture scene, our restaurants and shops, our many sporting events including the mighty Hoosiers, our outstanding outdoor facilities and so many other high quality offerings.

While many of us locals prefer those times when we have the place to ourselves, the truth is that we would not be enjoying our quality of life were it not for the important economic impact of tourism and community visitors. Our small businesses rely on visitor patronage, our arts organizations and festivals on audiences made up of people from across the region. We just don’t have the local people to support the rich cultural environment that we are used to.

A key challenge is that our tourism is more focused on weekends and other public holidays. This means that many pieces of infrastructure in place to accommodate spikes in visitor numbers – hotels, restaurants, shops, venues – face a cycle of feasting and starvation. Almost full hotel occupancy on football weekends or IU graduation, then relative tumbleweeds the following weekdays. It makes staff management almost impossible, revenue falters and ultimately weakens our local tourism businesses.

Analysis:Downtown Bloomington leaders vote on proposal for city to buy convention center

One role of a convention center is to help fill in the troughs between our current tourism peaks. While a convention center certainly plays an important role as a local gathering place for our own organizations – whether for corporate training or quilt shows or community conferences – an expanded convention center will enable our community to attract more outside visitors during these otherwise slower times, especially on weekdays, if tourism is otherwise not so robust.

Unfortunately, our current convention center is too small to accommodate the size of conventions that would have a significant impact in balancing the local tourism economy. According to Visit Bloomington, over time we have regularly turned away regional and national assemblies that would otherwise want to meet in Bloomington. We just don’t have the space to accommodate them. This means that our local tourism businesses have to forego the corresponding economic impact and deal with the weekly and seasonal ebb and flow.

What you need to know:Expansion of the Bloomington Convention Center

A valid question during the pandemic was: Now that we’ve all met Zoom, will we ever want to travel for business and conferences again? There are signs that the answer is yes and then some, although trends will be different than before the pandemic. The local tourism industry is poised for a record 2022. According to industry analysis, convention and events travel will help lead travel growth over the next few years.

Not every travel destination is well positioned to attract and capitalize on visitors. But Bloomington and Monroe County can be, with our quality of life facilities, the strength of the IU alumni network, and our supporting tourism infrastructure. Bloomington can only reap the projected annual impact of $18 million and the estimated 250+ new jobs that come with more consistent attendance if we significantly increase the size of our convention center. And this extension can and should reflect the rich culture of our community in its design, while creating physical connections between the gatherings taking place inside and the economic impact on our surrounding community. The placement of an expanded convention center just blocks from our downtown area makes this connection possible.

We appreciate the efforts of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and those of Downtown Bloomington Inc. and Visit Bloomington and many others to help the City and County find mutually beneficial terms to advance this important effort.

Alex Crowley is Director of Bloomington’s Department of Economic and Sustainable Development.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: