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Expansion of Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock gets look in report

by Noel Oman | March 3, 2018 at 4:30 a.m. | Updated March 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Expansion of the Statehouse Convention Center is on the radar of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tucked into the bureau's annual report released Friday is a brief mention of the possibility.

"We think in the next five years or so we're going to have to have a serious conversation about do we want to stay the same size we are or is it time to start expanding that center to try to attract some larger events or more events over the same time period if space was available," Gretchen Hall, president and chief executive officer of the bureau, said Friday.

Hall, who was named to her post in 2011, wasn't around when the Statehouse Convention Center was opened in 1982. It has been almost 20 years since an expansion project for the facility was completed in 1999.

The Statehouse Convention Center has less than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, leaving bureau staff members unable to book some larger conventions.

"We are considered a small, regional convention center due to the size of our space and from time to time we're not able to attract larger conventions because of the number of hotel rooms attached to the convention center or the actual size of the convention center itself," Hall said.

An expanded Statehouse Convention Center could not only attract more conventions, but also more events could be held at the same time, she said.

The center's exhibit halls were booked 42 percent of the time last year, according to figures in the annual report. That compared with 44 percent for regional centers of its size and 47 percent for centers with exhibit halls of less than 100,000 square feet.

"We're simply looking at our percentage of utilization of the center and that is teetering year-to-year right at average or above average in our competitive set and we also track any conventions we are unable to book due to our size or due to the fact we don't have space available for them because all of the space is booked and there is not more space to provide for them," Hall said.

Still, out of 365 days last year, 312 saw some kind of event being held at the center, according to the report.

The annual report said any consideration of expansion would "require urban planning studies, potential new market identification, full service hotel development and infrastructure support."

Contemplating a future expansion of the center comes after the first full year of operation for another bureau facility, the Robinson Center after a $70 million renovation.

In 2017, 132,513 tickets worth $7.8 million were sold online for Broadway shows and concerts in the performance hall, according to the annual report. By comparison, in 2013, the last full year of operations for the Robinson Center before renovation, 71,336 tickets worth $4.2 million were sold.

Overall, 6.4 million people visited Pulaski County in 2017, accounting for 22 percent of visitors to Arkansas, the report said. The Pulaski County visitors generated $1.9 million in travel spending last year, contributing more than $100 million in state and local tax revenue.

The bureau took in more than $13.9 million in tax receipts in 2017, including $6.6 million from full-service restaurants. A 2 percent advertising and promotion tax is assessed on lodging and prepared food sales in Little Rock.

"We continue to show positive growth in our industry across pretty much all lines of our organization," Hall said. "From our first year of Robinson Center -- and those numbers speak volumes with the growth there and just the sheer variety of offerings, it was a really great year -- and then all of our other facilities continue to maintain very good numbers.

"We're seeing increased visitation as it relates to those facilities. Our tax receipts continue to increase both on the lodging and prepared food side. We continue to have hotel developments. We think the tourism product is continuing to grow."

Business on 03/03/2018

Print Headline: Meeting hub size gets look in report; Expansion in LR seen as an option

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