A study analyzing how to lure more conventions to Lexington says any such expansion of Lexington Center should be done in conjunction with the construction of at least one additional convention-style hotel in downtown.
The study, which was commissioned by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, comes as work continues for Lexington's Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force, a 47-member group of community leaders exploring the future of Rupp Arena and the surrounding area. It also comes as the CentrePointe project has taken a new turn and once again focuses on building a convention-style Marriott hotel.
The report by consultant Conventions, Sports & Leisure International puts Lexington Center in the lower end of a series of competitors on certain criteria, encouraging the city to expand exhibit space, add hotel rooms and even improve air service in order to attract more conventions and the people and dollars they bring.
"The good thing is we have the review of the convention center and Rupp Arena right now," said Commerce Lexington President Bob Quick. "In the past, funding has been an issue, and it's taken a little bit longer to sell the community on the need for it.
"But I think that's changed because people have seen the successes from the World Equestrian Games and what Lexington Center has been able to do in terms of other conventions."
The study doesn't necessarily contain a lot of surprises, particularly its suggestion that Heritage Hall's exhibit space be increased from roughly 70,000 square feet to a range of 100,000 to 125,000 square feet.
"In 1986, a similar study suggested for Heritage Hall that 100,000 square feet would be an appropriate size of exhibition space," said Lexington Center CEO Bill Owen. "In 1997, a separate company ... did a similar study for the Bureau and indicated 90,000 square feet.
"I'm not surprised at all that 25 years later, yet a third consultant has said Heritage Hall needs to be bigger."
Owen said hotel availability is often discussed when Lexington fails to land a convention. The study noted there are 777 hotel rooms within walking distance of Lexington Center, but only about 600 of those are necessarily available for convention attendees at any given time. Housing people at hotels along, say, Newtown Pike adds travel costs and time to organizers, Owen said.
"If you have an attractive number of hotel rooms within walking distance of the center, that positions you better to compete," he said.
Woodford Webb, president of CentrePointe developer Webb Companies, noted expanding the availability of convention-style hotel rooms had been the goal all along with the project, which is now looking at around a 200-room Marriott on site.
Larry Bell, general manager of the downtown Hyatt, said that an expansion of Lexington Center could also be beneficial without an added hotel. "You can have one convention breaking down, another running and another setting up all at the same time," he said. "The expanded capacity is going to be a benefit regardless of the size of the hotel inventory downtown."