City chamber explores shift to tier two city
By Steve Lackmeyer
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1B
A large conference hotel and additional meeting space may be the next mission downtown for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber as it explores how to move from a tier three to tier two convention city.
The effort, announced by chairman Larry Nichols at Wednesday’s State of the City address, will start with the chamber hiring a consultant next month.
“A new 1,000 room convention hotel is something we can certainly dream about,” Nichols said. “The convention center is at capacity. If you try to book something in three weeks, you won’t find anything available.”
Nichols said the city has been told repeatedly it needs more than 1,000 hotel rooms to attract large conventions — and the opening of six new hotels over the past few years has put downtown’s room count at more than 1,400. He noted more meeting space was added at the Cox Convention Center a decade ago as part of the Metropolitan Area Projects improvements back when downtown only had one hotel.
“Now we’re on the other side, where we have more rooms but less convention space,” Nichols said. “We’ve got to define what a tier two city needs in terms of facilities and hotel capacity. And if you look around, major tier two cities all have major conference hotels — 500 to 1,000 rooms, a convention headquarters — which we don’t have.”
Roy Williams, chamber president, said the consultant also will look at other factors in joining a tier with St. Louis, Denver and Houston.
“We might need a new transportation system, we might need more destinations or destination packaging … it goes on and on,” Williams said. “These are just pieces of a bigger puzzle.”
Mayor Mick Cornett endorsed the chamber’s study.
“A lot of people look at Oklahoma City and say, ‘anything is possible.’ We need to know if this center can be expanded or do we need to start over someplace else,” Cornett said.
Cornett pledged any new convention space must be downtown, within walking distance of existing hotels. Original plans to remove part or all of the old convention center arena were put on hold when it became a key to luring the Big 12 Basketball Tournament to Oklahoma City.
Cornett said the city’s future prospects with the tournament may sway whether the arena is retained, and space is added elsewhere or a new center is built nearby.