Convention center draws more dollars than expected

Anchorage facilities still operating at a $1 million annual loss

Posted: Monday, November 02, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage's new convention center exceeded expectations in its first year with about 220,000 people walking through its doors.

Despite the slow economy, the Dena'ina Convention Center racked up millions of dollars more in sales than was expected this year, officials said. And while it is stealing some business from the city's older convention center, the amount is not enough to hurt a combined operating budget.

The two centers are operating at a $1 million annual loss, but that was anticipated during the planning process and is being made up by hotel-room taxes.

The new center has become the preferred spot in town for big business luncheons and ground zero for huge events like the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention, which drew more than 4,000 people last month.

Next year's financial outlook doesn't look too bad either.

That's not what everyone expected. The $111 million building was controversial for much of the past decade because Anchorage voters worried about footing its bill. After voters rejected the initial bid to build the center in 2002, city leaders revised their pitch in 2005. Voters approved the building after hotel-room-tax revenue and its own sales were used to fund the project.

The Dena'ina was finished on time and on budget last fall, just as the global economy was headed into a recession.

The Dena'ina met its sales expectations this year despite the slow economy, said Julie Saupe, president of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, which oversee the Dena'ina and Egan. The recession prompted no cancellations by national groups that had booked the Dena'ina for large conventions, she said.

The convention center hosted at least a dozen large conventions and trade shows this year that were too big for the Egan, built in the 1980s, according to SMG Management, which runs both centers.

City tourism officials said they are booking events through 2014 at about the same rate as they did last year. Dena'ina and Egan will generate a combined $95 million worth of future meetings this year, Saupe said.

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