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Posted Jul 21, 2012, 9:03 am
I am not sure whether to beam with pride or hide in shame after making it into one of Fitz's cartoons. Then again, promoting the idea of a new arena with no anchor tenant could lend suspicion that I have indeed fallen off my rocker. Convention centers bring tourism to communities. Most communities of similar size to Tucson have superior facilities. If we choose not have a facility at all we risk the gem show and potentially a drop in hotel occupancy. This leaves us with the questions; should we have a Tucson Convention Center? What do we do with the existing TCC? What to do in a "dare to be great" situation?
If you believe Tucson should have a convention center, consider this: The Tucson Convention Center is divided into two enterprises, Conventions, and the Arena. The convention enterprise handles the Gem Show, Home Show, and various other meetings. The arena enterprise involves concerts, Wildcat Hockey, Disney on Ice, wrestling and monster-trucks. There is almost zero marketing done for the Convention Enterprise by the Metro Tourism Convention and Visitors Bureau. Despite this, thanks to a dedicated staff and conservative management, the losses are minimal. In its current condition, the TCC could be losing as much as $15 million per year.
However, the TCC runs a deficit of $6 million per year. This deficit is caused mainly because the current arena lacks the seating and amenities necessary to attract any top tier large revenue yielding shows such as Bruce Springsteen, Dave Mattews or U2. It also lacks the amenities to attract a monthly featured 2nd tier show. Last year, only two such concerts took place, both were booked at the TCC due to scheduling issues in other cities. Most markets Tucson's size attract at least one show that size per month. One glaring issue is that the current Arena does not have a ceiling high enough for most professional stages to fit into. Moreover, the current arena needs new bathrooms, dressing rooms, security measures, a new loading door, needs to be rewired for pay per view. It has antiquated systems regarding energy and water efficiency. Finally, it generates zero luxury suite revenue, a now standard amenity in any modern facility. Despite this, the arena enterprise performs better financially than the convention enterprise.
The convention enterprise lacks the necessary standard hi-tech meeting space, exhibit space and amenities to be effective. The bottom line is we have a square footage and resources problem. There are times where the convention enterprise forces a shutdown of the arena enterprise and vice versa. An example is when a show is using the exhibit and arena space and a concert wants book the date. Result: No concert revenue. Another example; Disney on Ice is in the Arena and takes up one third of the exhibit space for storing props, stages, etc', in doing this they also lock up the loading bay that accesses the exhibit space. Result: No exhibit space rental. Above that, there are a substantial number of potential convention-business customers who do not even consider Tucson as a site due to us not meeting the minimum square footage requirements, meeting space requirements and technology requirements
All of this, along with not having a viable onsite hotel has limited out of town business to the point that it is a miracle we only lose 6 million a year. The shortage of space requirements, needed amenities, the condition of the finances, coupled with the gem show requesting an upgrade, makes my answer to the second question: "The TCC needs an upgrade." Now, ask what to do in a "dare to be great" situation.
Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.