“Broward County Convention Center Revisited: Version 4.0”
By Chip LaMarca, Broward County Commissioner
As a County Commissioner and a local small business owner, I understand the vital importance of strengthening our local economy in Broward County. Tourism is one of our principal industries that we rely on in South Florida. We can reestablish ourselves as an international and domestic leader in the tourism industry by building a world-class convention center hotel and expanding our existing LEED Gold convention center facility. This has been a goal of mine since being elected in 2010.
Broward County has supported the many initiatives that have gone into making our Convention Center the best it can be in order to standout from those of our surrounding neighbors to attract new business. The concept of a Headquarter Convention Center Hotel is not a new idea. As a matter of fact, it has been a recurring project before the Broward County Commission for many years as I have noted before in this newsletter. The concept was put forth in the early 1990’s and has come before the County Commission in various forms a total of three times and never came to fruition. According to Nicki Grossman, the President of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, we have lost major contracts with clients since these projects have failed. Nicki and her team have created a portfolio of hundreds of wonderful hotels in the Greater Fort Lauderdale Area. This portfolio of hotels has kept many large conventions coming back year after year. Unfortunately, we are now learning that some of our convention business cannot commit to returning to our sunny paradise. They cite our lack of a convention center hotel and a need for a larger convention facility, which is another goal of this expansion.
We have lost an estimated $61M in 2006, $47M in 2007, $43M in 2008, $54M in 2009, $33M in 2010 and $35M in 2011. One group in particular, ARVO-the Association of Vision in Ophthalmology was a client for dozens of years and booked 20,000 room nights annually. Broward County expects to lose $400 million in business and 960,000 room nights between 2008 and 2016 for lack of a convention center hotel and the expansion needed to compete with sites in other second-tier cities. Additionally, we have lost business due to the size of our convention center. This impact has averaged $8M annually.
Broward County is picture perfect destination for business conferences, annual meetings, and international expositions. The missing piece in Broward County being the first choice for many business or trade groups is our lack of a headquartered Convention Center hotel. This hotel in concept should be physically located adjacent to our Broward County Convention Center and be attached so that visitors can come and go from their meetings to their rooms and the amenities of such a facility.
Projects like a convention center hotel are needed to bring jobs to the local economy. We have seen a steady decline in unemployment numbers, which indicates that we are heading in the right direction. At 5.0% we remain lower than our neighboring counties and our state in this key indicator. This impact has been felt all around our county.
The consultants hired by the county have provided four different conceptual designs and an analysis of the feasibility of expanding the convention center and adding an adjacent hotel. The consultants have held stakeholder meetings with various homeowner associations, government agencies and department officials in the county to receive meaningful feedback and apply those to the master plan. Some of the key input from the community at public forums were utilizing the waterfront view, creating an iconic building and destination, providing entertainment, connection to nearby hotels and retail, including outdoor green space, pedestrian oriented development, accessibility to boats/water taxis, and traffic improvement.
We need to move forward with this project now. If we don't take action we will most certainly become an afterthought to our neighbors to the north and south. Palm Beach County has pledged to invest $27 million dollars towards a $100 million project and Miami-Dade County has been in talks to invest nearly $100 million towards a project that has estimates closing in on $650 million. We can do this without leveraging any vital tax dollars because we have the most valuable asset to offer at Port Everglades, waterfront property. I expect to see a creative process like a Public Private Partnership. I will continue to advocate for this project at the County Commission and I hope a Headquarter Convention Hotel will finally become a reality. It is crucial that we work together to bring a Convention Center hotel to Broward County.
As always, it is an honor to serve you.
County Commissioner Chip LaMarca is a lifelong resident of Broward’s Coastal District who has earned a reputation for being a citizens’ advocate and a respected voice for the taxpayers he is honored to represent.