A feasibility study conducted by Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners predicts a recommended convention center and hotel package near Bass Pro Shops would generate a $1.1 billion economic impact over a 20-year period.
The 136-page report, released Friday, lays out recommendations for the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city of Springfield and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, among other stakeholders, to capitalize on the popularity of the Bass Pro complex at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street, which includes the outdoor retailer’s flagship store and the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. The latter attraction brought in 1.6 million visitors its first year after reopening in September 2017.
“Because of Wonders of Wildlife’s role as a world-class conservation attraction and the boost it’s given to Springfield as a destination for those who love outdoors activities and sports, there’s great opportunity to explore in terms of building on that as a tourism asset,” chamber President Matt Morrow said in a news release. “This study is the next step in looking at all of our options in an evolving landscape. As we move forward, it’s important to look at our opportunities in a strengths-based way, and certainly the success of WOW could prove to be an excellent foundation for future growth.”
The Hunden report recommends the construction of a 100,600-square-foot convention center and a connected or adjacent hotel. Additionally, the report calls for two other hotels near Bass Pro and within walking distance of the convention center: a 160- to 180-room Delta Hotels property or Embassy Suites and a 100- to 120-room Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn. The main hotel is recommended with 250 to 300 rooms, 14,000 square feet, a ballroom, seven meeting rooms and a boardroom. Beyond noting the various hotels would offer different price points, the report does not detail why the recommended flags were chosen.
Funding recommendations include the creation of a Bass Pro community improvement district with a 1 percent tax and an increase in the hotel tax to 7 percent citywide, according to the report.
Hunden officials also recommend the creation of a public-private ownership and management structure, through which the city of Springfield would be the owner and a third-party independent manager would be the operator. The CVB also may be involved in the structure, managing tax funds and reporting to an independent authority appointed by elected officials, according to the report.
The report does not identify an exact location or timeline for the proposed project. The release indicated local officials would work to evaluate the report and gather input from the community before identifying a suitable location.
The Hunden report is the latest study in a yearslong examination over whether to build a new convention center with adjacent lodging in Springfield. The 1.7 acres between the Expo Center and Jordan Valley Car Park have long been considered a possibility, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Last year, the CVB recorded 1.38 million overnight visitors in Springfield. Officials with the organization say the city’s convention center market has been flat in recent years as event planners look to other cities with more appealing facilities, according to the release.
“We are not seeing growth in the convention business because we simply do not have competitive facilities,” CVB President Tracy Kimberlin said in the release. “Because of WOW’s tremendous impact and success, and because of lingering uncertainty with a convention complex in proximity to the Expo Center, community leaders began considering the possibility of a convention complex near Bass Pro Shops.
“We don’t lose travel and tourism sales to the internet. They bring people into our community who spend their dollars here, and that’s money that can be reinvested in our community as funding for infrastructure, public safety and other needs.”
The Hunden report also predicts that by year 20, the development would create 800 new full-time jobs.
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