Local News

Raleigh Convention Center Looks for Sponsors for Big Opening Bash

Posted February 20, 2008 6:14 a.m. EST
Updated February 20, 2008 6:43 p.m. EST

— Raleigh’s new convention center is set to open during a celebration on Sept. 5-6, and city leaders spent Wednesday morning soliciting sponsors to help pay for the grand opening.

The city did not announce who will get corporate naming rights to the center's plaza.

In a room full of business leaders and community leaders Wednesday, the message was clear. The convention center is almost complete, and in order to open it in a big way, they need big financial support.

"We need you to step up as we always ask you, and you have done it time and time again for our community," said Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan.

When complete, the center will be 500,000 square feet with 19 meeting rooms, a grand ballroom and a four-star, 400 room Marriott hotel next door. It is expected to cost $221 million, and city leaders predict it will quickly become the centerpiece for the downtown district.

“The underscored, italicized, bold type, exclamation point on a downtown renaissance that has been in the making for more than two decades,” said Phil Zachary, president of Curtis Media Group, as he described the new convention center.

A opening celebration will be held Sept. 5-6 in conjunction with "Raleigh Wide Open III" on Fayetteville Street and the Showcase Extravaganza featuring the International Festival, which will be held in the new center’s exhibit hall.

"It's the biggest party our community has ever had. This represents five years of planning and construction to get this done," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. "It really is a new era for our city and county."

“We've got one chance to open it in a quality way, and that chance is now,” Bryan said.

Raleigh officials have considered at least two companies for the naming rights. The deal will also include a fountain and interactive artwork outside the complex.

A naming rights deal for the plaza could bring in more than $1 million over the next three to five years. That compares with $5.5 million Progress Energy is paying the city over the next 20 years for the naming rights to the performing arts center downtown.

Naming rights for convention centers usually don't generate the same kind of corporate cash as those for sports arenas, such as the RBC Center, marketing specialist Hill Carrow said.

"The most attractive naming-rights sponsorships are usually associated with professional facilities that get a lot of broadcast or media exposure," Carrow said.

Fewer than 10 convention centers in cities nationwide have corporate naming deals, and those range from $250,000 to $850,000 a year. Carrow predicted Raleigh's deal would fall somewhere in the middle of that range.

"It reaches a certain audience. The key for most companies (is) does it reach the audience I want to tap into?" he said. "I wouldn't see it as a real risk for a business."

Late last year, Durham-based Cree Inc. committed $1 million to erecting a "shimmer wall," with panels that shimmer in the wind, on the west side of the center.