Based on the recommendation of a $50,000 study, Boise needs an additional 80,000 square feet of new convention space. The feasibility report was commissioned by the Greater Boise Auditorium District (GBAD) despite the slumping economy, which has put a damper on the hospitality industry.The GBAD is funded by a 4-percent tax on hotel rooms.
Pat Rice, the general manager of the Boise Center and spokesman for the GBAD, said despite the down economy, now is the right time to spend that kind of money for a feasibility study. “You’ve got to do your due diligence. I think it was fiscally prudent to do it considering the long-term ramifications, and I think we had to find out did it still makes sense.” The GBAD has conducted four such feasibility studies since 1996, the most recent in 2004.
In the past, critics of expanded convention facilities in Boise have said the city doesn’t have enough to offer convention attendees in terms of entertainment, and it’s too far off the beaten path. “One of the things we’ve done for several years is track those groups who said, ‘we’d love to come to Idaho, we’d love to come to Boise, but you’re just not big enough,’” said Rice. “There is documentation that says ‘if you build it, they will come’; these are groups that say yes, we definitely have an interest.”
Regardless, Chuck Everett, operations manager with AmeriTel Inns corporate headquarters, has never seen the hotel business so slow in Boise. In citing the GBAD’s own numbers, he said, “You have to go back to 2002 to find the last time their receipts have been this low. (The first four months of) 2002 was only $2,000 less than this four-month period (December-March), and if I go back, it’s gonna be 1997 since we’ve had this kind of shortfall in hotel receipts. Boise is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”
Rice is upbeat, though. “I think there’s optimism, generally speaking. The hospitality market should increase. Conventions, quite frankly, remain strong; it’s the local business that has been impacted more than anything else, as far as we’re concerned.”
While he liked the overall study, which was conducted by Conventions, Sports and Leisure International of Minneapolis, Everett said it pointed out that not all was rosy when it came to building more convention space. “It does not provide a glowing outlook for building new expanded convention facilities in Boise. It points out the possible upside and the possible downside. There are definite downsides to building it.”
Furthermore, Everett said if the GBAD is seriously looking to start building additional convention space, it will have a hard time funding the project. “There’s no money out there right now. So for anybody to try to go to a bank, they need a feasibility study to make an attempt to secure the kind of money they’ll need.”
Rice agrees, but says now that GBAD has an updated study, it can at least start looking for money. “We found out that yes, it’s a viable risk to move forward. So we’ll take a step back, say OK, is there anybody interested in public-private partnerships? We have something to show a developer, investors, that says the project’s viable.”