A. Lee Graham email@example.com
Having seeded thriving hotel and convention center business, Fort Worth officials hope that a consultant study will help determine the city’s next step. “We’ve got a world-class convention center. We want to continue on that,” said Kirk Slaughter, the city’s public events director. To that end, Slaughter and Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, plan to find a consultant to analyze the city’s hotel needs. If the city council approves hiring a consultant, officials also hope its market study would determine the evolutionary next step for the Fort Worth Convention Center. “It began as a redevelopment of the southern end of downtown,” said Slaughter, recalling the venue’s 1968 debut and its subsequent renovations. Even before a 1983 expansion added an annex and parking garage, the arena portion at the center’s northern end attracted major concerts. A 2003 expansion – “The big one,” Slaughter said – added ballroom space, additional meeting space and exhibit space. “We now have a very competitive facility. But I think there are still more opportunities to explore the future of the convention center,” Slaughter told the council at a recent meeting. Several possibilities have been discussed, including replacing the arena with more meeting space. But no firm proposal has been presented. Since opening the venue, the city has served a thriving convention business that’s not only brought in major events, including the state’s Republican Party gathering last year, but also helped strengthen nearby hotels that accommodate convention visitors. A mid-1990s study suggested that Fort Worth could support more hotel rooms. That seeded the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, which opened in 2009. Other key downtown hotels include the Sheraton Hotel, which reopened in 2008 after undergoing renovations, and the Embassy Suites property, which was renovated in 2007 after Clarion and other hotels occupied the property. The city’s hotel industry has been strengthening in recent years. Since recessionary woes lowered annual room revenues citywide from $242 million in 2008 to $222 million in 2009, the numbers have inched higher. They’ve risen steadily from $234 million in 2010 to $266 million in 2012, according to Smith Travel Research Inc. Downtown hotels alone pumped $95 million in annual room revenue into the city’s economy in 2012, the same level as 2011. The figure has risen every year since at least 2007, when it stood at $51 million. Compared with Dallas, Fort Worth’s downtown hotel market commands an edge. Its average daily room rate stood at $143.24 in 2012 compared with $135.38 in Dallas, the most recent figures, according to Smith Travel Research. Meanwhile, downtown Fort Worth’s revenue per available room was $98.79 in 2012 compared with $75.65 in Dallas, with Fort Worth boasting 69 percent occupancy compared with 55.9 percent for downtown Dallas, according to the same Smith Travel study. “People are looking at this market with some interest, and they will continue to do that,” said Jameson, pointing to the planning process that led to the Omni, the convention center expansion and other developments as helping feed that interest. “We think that the time is right … for us to do that same type of look-ahead and bring together the pieces that would be appropriate for a five-to-10 year vision for what our industry and visitor facilities will look like in the city of Fort Worth,” Jameson said.