Summit discusses solutions to declining conventions market

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-25 20:23:35-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Hosting conventions is big business, but lately Corpus Christi has had a hard time bringing in big conventions.

The city sits in a prime location, with tons of tourist attractions. So why aren't those conventions coming here? Finding some answers was the purpose behind the CAPACITY Summit Thursday at the American Bank Center.

When it comes to conventions, Corpus Christi competes with places like Oklahoma City and Little Rock as “Tier 2” cities, behind “Tier 1” cities like Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio. Convention planners believe Corpus Christi can be a top “Tier 2” city, but only with a couple major changes to the American Bank Center and the area around it.

On paper, Corpus Christi seems like an ideal convention site.

“We have the Gulf Coast here, you've got the big ship (USS Enterprise) here, you've got the marina here," a convention planner said. "Downtown Corpus Christi has everything you want."

Well, almost everything. Local tourism officials believe something's missing, and it's costing the city conventions.

“Ninety-two percent of the meeting planners surveyed say they want a convention center hotel,” Visit CEO Paulette Kluge said. “If they use the Convention Center, they want a hotel right next door.”

According to visit Corpus Christi, convention business has dropped off steadily in the last decade. The lack of convention center hotel is one reason. Meeting space is another concern.

“It's super important we have flexible meeting space that better serves the needs of the meetings market,” said Kluge.

The Convention Center has plenty of meeting space, that's not the problem. The problem is that several of the meeting spaces in the Convention Center are simply too big.

“There's big rooms that just need to be divisible,” said Kluge. “We can pull air-walls and have a smaller room, and a junior ballroom; and open and close as needed.”

Officials believe the necessary upgrades are possible without a major reconstruction to the American Bank Center.

“There would be some growth in the amount of space, but for the most part it's taking existing space and making it more usable,” said Kluge.

Several city leaders attended the summit, including most of the city council and City Manager Peter Zanoni. Council member Paulette Guajardo says after the summit, she expects the council to revisit convention center renovations. Visit Corpus Christi estimates those upgrades to have a price tag in the millions of dollars, but money collected through Hotel Occupancy Taxes can be used to pay for them.

In 2015, the Convention and Visitors Bureau hired a consulting firm to address the decline in conventions. Two years later, they presented their findings and recommended a 300-room hotel next to the American Bank Center. That project though, never materialized. Guajardo says that project could also go back out for bid.