For the past five years, Oklahoma City leaders have been advised if they want a large conference center hotel, they will need to chip in $50 million or more to make it a reality.
Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council is set to decide whether the city will pay $100,000 to consulting firm Public Financial Management Inc. to draw up options on how the city can proceed with development of a hotel with at least 500 rooms in conjunction with construction of a new convention center.
Mike Carrier, president of the Oklahoma Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been a leading voice in arguing a large hotel is critical to the success of the $250 million convention center approved by voters in 2009.
“We continually receive requests for headquarters hotel of at least 500 rooms,” Carrier told The Oklahoman Friday. “We don't have that in Oklahoma City. That's why it is essential that we have a new headquarters hotel of sufficient size to support the convention center and serve the meeting planners we cannot deal with now.”
Downtown already was home to several hotels when Conventions Sports & Leisure completed a study in 2008 for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber that identified a hotel of at least 650 rooms as needed to make a new convention center successful.
Critics, including Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, have long questioned why no funding plan was considered for a hotel during the MAPS 3 campaign, and have asked that consultants be hired to determine the potential cost to the city.
Cathy O'Connor, director of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority and The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said the Alliance previously hired Stone Consulting to complete a marketing study. Public Financial Management, meanwhile, would draw up proposals on how best to fund a hotel.
O'Connor said if the financial analysis contract is approved, she expects reports to be completed this summer.
“These are the beginning steps,” O'Connor said. “From this work, if the council decides to proceed, we'll move forward with a request for (developer) qualifications.”
A similar process was followed with the selection of former Hilton Hotels executive John Weeman a decade ago in the successful redevelopment of the Skirvin hotel.
“There will be presentations and workshops,” O'Connor said. “The council will have to make a decision on whether to proceed. We're months away, at least six months from having a developer on board.”
At a glance
Why is a big hotel needed?
With several hotels under construction or set to be built in Bricktown and the room count approaching 3,000, some ask why downtown needs a large conference hotel.
Mike Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, responds his staff routinely misses out booking large conventions in the energy, aviation and biosciences industries due to the city's aging convention center and the lack of a headquarters hotel.
The city is set to build and open a new convention center in 2019 that will give Carrier's staff more space and availability to sell to meeting planners. He argues the new hotels being built now — many of them limited-service hotels with fewer than 200 rooms each — don't meet the needs of meeting planners. “Decisions are made based on the package you have to offer,” he said. “In no defined order, the questions you get asked are, ‘Do you have enough space for my meeting — exhibit, meeting rooms, ballrooms?' and the second question, sometimes first, is ‘Do you have the hotel rooms necessary for me to accommodate my people within walking distance, preferably under one roof or as few roofs as possible?'