Local News

Convention Center Costs Continue To Rise

Posted December 18, 2006 6:47 a.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2006 3:31 p.m. EST

— Cost overruns continue to plague the new downtown convention center.

Raleigh and Wake County leaders heard Monday that another $6.4 million was needed to complete the facility. The latest change means the convention center is $42 million over its original budget.

“Our crystal balls have not been perfect,” Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said.

"We've gone from $180 (million) to $192 (million) to $215 (million) to $222 million," Wake County Commissioner  Joe Bryan said. "I'm not happy about being here."

Officials blame higher material costs for much of the rising price tag. But more than half of latest money added to the budget is for extras like stone floors for the lobby and skylights that were taken out of the project previously, and the construction team thought they'd have enough money in the end to put them back.

“They should never have been taken out in the first place,” City Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro said. “We are in a competitive market, and I think those details are important to the quality of the building."

Critics said the building could still be successful without stone floors and canopies to shelter visitors.

“I'm not sure how much that adds to the overall experience a conventioneer is going to have,” Commissioner Paul Coble said. “At some point, you have to say, 'That's enough.'”

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward disagreed.

"I don't think we should make any apologies for trying to make this building beautiful. It's something that going to be substantial for a long time yet to come," Ward said.

The convention center already has lined up advance bookings that are double initial projections. So far, three international conferences, 11 national conventions and 18 state and regional events are scheduled to be held in the facility, which is slated to open in 2008.

About $3 million of the new money would go into a contingency fund to help fund other construction changes on the convention center.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker wants to use additional dollars from taxes paid mostly by visitors, so a local tax increase wouldn't be needed.

"We are very fortunate that the funds coming in from the hotel, motel and prepared food taxes are actually far more than this adjustment, so hopefully it's something the current formula can handle," Meeker said.

Both the hotel and restaurant taxes have grown seven to 10 percent faster than financial planners predicted.

But officials said there is no guarantee that costs for the convention center won't rise again.

"The truth is we are going to be here again," Bryan said.