In the coming months there will be discussion about building a convention center or multi-use facility in Lake County. On behalf of the $837 million hospitality industry and its 25,000 employees, the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau will be strongly advocating this project.
Critics will attempt to cloud the issue by introducing a myriad of debates designed to divide, create controversy or simply misinform. Some will try to make it a typical “north versus south” issue, creating controversy over the location of such an important public investment. Others will suggest the facility be built “privately.”
In 2002, the Brookings Institute conducted a national feasibility study on convention center expansion. The simplistic report is hailed by detractors as the reason no city should consider building a convention center. The author willingly chose to ignore the critical issue of lack of corresponding hotel growth, or sadly did not understand that convention sales cannot take place without commensurate hotel rooms to sell.
The lifecycle of hotel development is to “sell more, then charge more, and then build more” (then the cycle begins anew). Chicago and Indianapolis are great examples of this mantra. The expanded convention space in both cities is not experiencing full utilization because the supply of hotel rooms cannot meet the demand created by expanded convention facilities.
If you have tried to reserve a room in either market, you have experienced that these two cities are in the “charge more” phase of their lifecycle. As the Lake County sales staff experiences daily, smaller conventions are being displaced. Displaced, not because the cities were wrong in their calculations that existing pieces of business could co-exist in the expanded convention center, but the increased demand for hotels rooms has effectively raised hotel rates to the point that smaller groups are seeking relocation to more favorably priced hotel markets.
That is the case with SMERFS (social, military, education, religious, fraternal and sports) groups. SMERFS are very price sensitive and can be very lucrative. These are the types of groups being forced out of both Chicago and Indianapolis due to price. Lake County is ideally positioned to take advantage of the shift in these markets.
Convention centers are built by public investment to increase sales in hotels, restaurants, casinos, and retail. More sales, more jobs. More jobs, more home construction and additional investment.
Building both an amateur sports pavilion and a convention center would be a great boon to the billion dollar hospitality industry and add to the 25,000 jobs already in place. Lake County is in the “sell more” phase, therefore Lake County needs to offer facilities that will act as catalysts to increase hotel occupancy, restaurant and retail sales.
Please take some time to learn more about this very important public policy initiative. I am confident that once all the facts are presented, supporting this investment and its economic benefits will be something that everyone will want to support.
Speros A. Batistatos, FCDME
Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau