Hall may pose problems for future conventions

Centennial Hall's size, equipment make it harder to draw business

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

Conventions contribute about $8 million to the local economy each year, but issues surrounding Centennial Hall challenge Juneau's ability to draw future convention business, tourism officials say.

The city-owned civic and convention center is managed by Juneau's Parks and Recreation Department and contracts with the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, a private nonprofit group, to provide marketing staff.

The bureau's Convention Solutions Department faces several challenges to enticing business to Centennial Hall, such as outdated electronic equipment and the building's condition and size, JCVB officials said.

"Because of Centennial Hall's size, we have a bit of a ceiling on how big of a convention we can go after," JCVB President and CEO Lorene Kappler told a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday. "Being that the meeting and convention industry is growing so competitive, it's very important that Centennial Hall be brought up to speed."

Kappler said a structural study has shown that a second floor could be added to Centennial Hall, but plans to expand are on hold.

Centennial Hall Manager Dayle Tennison said today that keeping up with technology can be a problem, but the hall's equipment constantly is updated and is in good condition.

"We ask people to come in early to test the equipment," Tennison said. "But sometimes they don't and there can be some concerns because each piece of equipment operates differently."

Tennison stressed Centennial Hall does not depend on the city's general fund for daily maintenance and operation.

"All the (daily maintenance and operation) money is generated from revenues from rentals and the hotel bed tax," Tennison said. "We pay JCVB $123,800 to market Centennial Hall, which brings our portion of the bed tax down."

She said the hall's budget for the current fiscal year is $587,189, not including funds paid to JCVB.

"We are working hard to work with our customers and have the best audio-visual equipment we can have with our budget," Tennison said.

Kappler said JCVB will contact people who have just held meetings at Centennial Hall to document problems.

"We need to keep it competitive," she said.

The events of Sept. 11, coupled with the economic downturn, have placed a greater importance on drawing businesses to Juneau to hold conventions, Kappler said.

"A study by the U.S. Commerce Department recently ranked Alaska dead last in economic growth," said Sara Chambers, JCVB's director of Convention Solutions. "We need to find ways to market Juneau."

Chambers said convention attendees stay an average of 5.7 nights in Juneau. About 34 percent of the money they spend goes to hotels, 26 percent is on recreational attractions, and 15 percent is in bars and restaurants.

"In actual dollars, this economic impact amounts to $1,999 per convention attendee," she said.

The option of changing the management of Centennial Hall from the Parks and Recreation Department to the JCVB also was mentioned at the chamber meeting.

"That has been discussed, there was a mayor's task force on it, and they did talk about the benefits and cost and what would work," Kappler said. "They did come up with a conclusion that it was better off under the city because of liability and payroll."

Tennison said many convention centers throughout the United States are operated successfully through city or county management.

"It's a common practice," Tennison said. "Everyone is satisfied with the current management."

Freda Rogers, with the Northwest region customer service department of Aetna U.S. Healthcare of Washington, presented a program about a year ago at Centennial Hall and said the audio-visual equipment needed to be replaced and the acoustics were bad. She thought it was a good idea to change the management of Centennial Hall to JCVB.

"They're the experts," Rogers said. "Parks and Rec I think was intended for a different function than to oversee something of that nature."

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