Officials see Tulsa benefitting from convention boom if convention space expanded

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Tulsa officials see a booming exhibition and convention industry that their city can only benefit from if the city expands its convention space.

Cities that never could compete with Tulsa for convention business have built or plan to open new facilities that will rival or exceed those here, officials say.

"The last decade, the exhibition industry has grown significantly," said Mark Caito, president of the Chicago-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

Higher accommodation prices in major cities and low-cost airline travel have combined to help open markets once considered closed to regional and national convention business, Caito said. The result has been a boom in convention center construction.

"And the truth is, if you want to attract the regional and national markets, then you have to have the space to meet their needs," Caito said.

Tulsa voters will decide the fate of a $263 million tourism and conventions package on Nov. 7. The money would fund improvements to the Maxwell Convention Center and build a new arena.

Expanding exhibition center space is vital to maintaining the convention industry here, said Suzann Stewart, vice president of the Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We know we can be competitive with other cities our size,"

Stewart said. "If we provide the right size box, they will come."

Cities like Hot Springs, Ark., Wichita, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M., have all opened facilities in recent years that for the first time are competing with Tulsa, said Bob Mayer, convention center director.

The proposed $95 million expansion of the convention center would permit the facility to host two exhibitions, rather than just one, simultaneously. Much of the time reserved for individual shows is spent in setting up and taking down the exhibition. Convention officials say during that period, Tulsa doesn't benefit from delegates who spend their money here.

The industry has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Caito said.

"Probably the outlook for Tulsa's ability to attract events is quite good," he said.

The only question for Tulsa is whether it has enough hotel space to support its expansion, Caito said.

City officials have said some of the additional hotel rooms could come from the reopening of the Mayo Hotel.

The hotel owners say they have found a suitor willing to invest in the reopening of the downtown landmark. But the project hinges on passage of the Nov. 7 ballot.