Raleigh City Council
voted Tuesday to move forward on the building of a new convention center and headquarters hotel.
Wake County Board of Commissioners
must approve the inter-local agreement at its July 21 meeting because the items approved will be financed from the Room Occupancy Tax and Prepared Food Tax.
Tuesday's vote marked the first step toward buying land and choosing a design for the new convention center. But not everyone is convinced the investment is worth it.
Critics of the project say just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come.
Council member Kieran Shanahan said a case hasn't been made for spending $200 million to build the center.
"Our very own consultants prove that point," Shanahan said. "They have told you there's been a significant change in this country, in the amount of travel, in the amount of conventioneering that goes on."
Nevertheless, by a 7-1 vote Tuesday, the City Council approved that city administration take the following action toward building a new convention center:
Do you think Raleigh needs a new convention center? Yes No
The agreement includes an amendment that increases to $3 million from $2 million the amount of Room Occupancy Tax and Prepared Food Tax revenue annually allotted for the proposed convention center's operating expenses.
Two dollars from the inter-local fund will be earmarked for any county-approved project for every $1 above $2 million the proposed center requires in annual operating expenses. These projects will not require City Council approval.
Supporters of the plan agree that the decline in travel has hurt convention business. But they say that trend primarily affects larger cities hosting national conventions.
"The difference is we're a drive-in market," said Dave Hein of the Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Right now, people aren't flying as much as they used to, so this is ideal for us -- a drive-in market for state, regional and small national market."
Most council members think Raleigh could make a bundle on convention business. They voted to dedicate 85 percent of the hotel and meals tax to building and running the new center.
Over 30 years, the money tapped from that tax could top $500 million.
"This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Raleigh and Wake County to provide the first-quality convention center we need in this city," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.
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