The Huntington Convention Center can and should be expanded, and with it the opportunity for greater impact and new opportunities for growth.
I have a nuanced view. As a former public sector economic development leader, I now serve my hometown by promoting Cleveland as head of Cushman & Wakefield | Cresco, where I interact with businesses looking for locations to grow. I see firsthand how Cleveland’s outlook changes once businesses discover our city. It simplifies the conversation and makes us more competitive as we battle peer cities for business attention.
Data amplifies my experiences. Independent studies show that nine in ten past visitors (87%) are likely to recommend Cleveland as a place to visit when talking to family members and trusted friends. Meetings, conventions and events stimulate this large-scale experience and perception; this type of tourism also supports more than 50,000 local jobs.
We know that the travel and tourism industry provides a strong and consistent return on investment. Expansion will only increase this yield. These are the types of investments that we need in Cuyahoga County right now. Specifically, since opening in 2013, Cleveland’s Huntington Convention Center has generated more than $1 billion in measurable economic impact locally. That’s $1 billion from visitors. These dollars came from hosting 1,500 conventions, trade shows and events, filling three-quarters of a million hotel rooms and attracting nearly 1.7 million event attendees.
We have a great start and an incredible opportunity to increase impact by expanding the Huntington Convention Center. Paradoxically, our convention center is hidden; the largely underground facility is state-of-the-art, as is the infrastructure that powers countless conventions and meetings, from the annual Women in Cybersecurity meeting to the National Association’s annual convention and career fair black journalists. At the top of the site is the large visible building now known as the Global Center for Health Innovation. Although I’d like to point out why the concept didn’t work, the result is the same: the building is great, it’s connected to the convention center, people can see it, and it’s a clear opportunity to add 100,000 square feet, or nearly two football pitches, of meeting and event space to our successful convention center.
It won’t be cheap, but the investment will generate revenue that the community will share and it is proposed to be cost shared between the Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corporation (CCCFDC), which oversees the operations of the convention center, and Cuyahoga County. Necessary improvements will address known deficiencies in the building’s design (namely, escalators and other access improvements to match the building’s increased traffic) and expand the atrium ballroom and the connected outdoor event space.
Recommended work meets the needs and requirements of meeting industry clients when selecting hosting sites, and we have not revamped our space since 2013. These are necessary improvements to keep up with our regional competitors, like Columbus and Louisville, which are reinvesting in their convention facilities and currently pouring hundreds of millions into major expansions to compete with us.
According to a feasibility study, converting existing vacant space and expanding to Level 1 of the Global Center building will create 490 hospitality jobs, an additional $18.4 million in salaries and more than $3 million in tax revenue per year. Bringing our facilities into line with current industry expectations will result in an increase in the number of conventions and visitors.
In addition, the project addresses the financial sustainability of the entire convention center complex. CS&L’s study of HCCC space determined that annual spending by meeting attendees (people from outside the region) will likely increase by 23%, or $21 million, over our pre-three-year average. -pandemic. Conversely, if nothing is done to expand the convention center complex, Cuyahoga County stands to lose 9% of annual convention spending, or $7.8 million per year, from the average. over three years. The return on investment this project provides will help the county afford to build and operate other projects that do not have a growth component but are necessary parts of county government responsibility.
Let’s do this. As the world returns to in-person formats, let’s do what it takes to bring more conventions, meetings, and visitors to experience the city we love.
Kelly is President and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield | Cresco.