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Convention center design awaits decision on conference hotel site

Planning for a new $250 million convention center south of downtown appears to hinge on uncertainty about where to build a desired 600-room conference hotel.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: March 27, 2013

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The Cox Arena also was recently upgraded to host hockey games for the Oklahoma City Barons and is frequently host to area high school graduations. The newer Chesapeake Energy Arena to the south of the Cox Arena is frequently booked up with Thunder home games and concerts that require larger numbers of seating.

“The (Cox) arena is the one asset in that facility that may have a longer life span,” said Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But once the new convention center is open, the majority of that old facility is obsolete.”

Carrier said it's unlikely a hotel will open at the same time as the new convention center. But selling convention space can be hampered if a hotel isn't at least under construction as the convention center is being built, he said.

The decision to build a large conference hotel has yet to be made by the Oklahoma City Council, which was advised before the passage of MAPS 3 in 2009 that the city faced a minimum $50 million subsidy to attract such development.

Modeling performed by Populous indicates the hotel would likely be 20 stories high — a potential visual impediment between the Core to Shore park and the downtown skyline.

“If these things were not in play, if the Core to Shore park was not something we're considering, and if the boulevard is not the grand boulevard we're talking about, we would want to put the hotel at the Cox site — it's closer to downtown,” Voth said. “This is a tough decision. What are our priorities?”

Cathy O'Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said hiring will begin soon for a firm to complete a study on feasibility of the hotel and what incentives might be required.

But even that study, she warned, won't answer all the questions posed Tuesday by Populous. She also warned that completion of the study is months away.

The only apparent consensus reached at the end of Tuesday's meeting is that the question of whether to build a hotel and where to build it will ultimately be made by the city council, and no final designs can be completed for the convention center until the issue is settled.

Carrier, meanwhile, reiterated his longtime advice that a new convention center cannot succeed without a large conference hotel to book large blocks of rooms for visiting groups.

“It's a policy decision the city is going to have to answer,” Carrier said. “It's something the city needs to start looking at very, very soon.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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