Market study shows Appleton convention center still feasible

APPLETON – A plan for a $28 million downtown Appleton convention center may be gaining some steam.

An economic study released today shows the market is there.

But there are still some questions, like who’s going to pay for it.

If a convention center is built in downtown Appleton, taxpayers will foot the bill for about $4 million of the roughly $28 million project. But Mayor Tim Hanna says it would be money well spent.

“You leverage what is being put in publicly which is $3.8 million to leverage $6.5 million a year in economic impact, it sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”

First Appleton needs to acquire a parking lot behind the hotel from the county. That is where the convention center will be built.

However, Monday’s study shows demand for the convention center is down.

In 2008, when a study was first done, it showed the center would bring in $8.5 million a year. Now that number is down to $6.5.

But the author of the study, Bill Krueger of Convention, Sports and Leisure, says not building is also costing the city money.

“Should the Fox Cities do nothing and not invest in their convention product, they are going to continue year over year to lose market share relative to competitive cities and destinations.”

But some Aldermen question whether that drop in demand is a permanent slice of the market that is gone.

“The possibility that the number of people interested in this went down as much as 30% is a real challenge for us to look at going forward. And we need to figure out if that is a demand that is going to continue to diminish and if so what is going to happen if the city invests a lot of money in this space,” said Alderman Kyle Lobner.

Walt Rugland heads the non-profit group behind the push to build the center. He says despite competition from convention centers in Green Bay and Oshkosh, Appleton provides a unique option.

“It’s in the eye of the beholder which destination they wish to take it to and I think the more people we can get to come to Northeast Wisconsin the better. And for us to have choices is very important.”

The plan got a $5 million boost from the Community Foundation for the Fox Cities to help fund the project. And Hanna says the numbers are in the city’s favor.

“Yeah, it still makes sense, there is still a significant economic impact.”

Appleton has set aside $3.8 million to buy the land from the county and prepare it for building.

About $19 million dollars would need to be raised through a higher hotel room tax in the Fox Cities.

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