RALEIGH, N.C. — Officials confirmed Thursday the city has lured events to the new Raleigh Convention Center by offering incentives – a practice some critics are questioning.
Director of Convention Sales Laurie Okun said Raleigh has used incentives, including price cuts on rooms, to sway some groups to choose Raleigh over East Coast competitors.
"When it was a hole in the ground or less, you have to offer some kind of incentive because people are booking conferences on a virtual dream,” Okun said.
After six years of planning and three years of construction, the $221 million center opened Sept. 5.
The conservative nonprofit group the John Locke Foundation released a report this month stating tax dollars would be used to pay for the center’s incentive discounts.
“You’re paying a convention to come to Raleigh instead of coming to a similar city on the East Coast,” Mitch Kokai, director of communications for the John Locke Foundation, said.
Many cities with convention centers offer incentives to lure events, officials said.
Okun said the competition of the center has made it easier to recruit events.
Nearly 240 events are booked at the center. Of those, 135 are conventions.
The National Agents Alliance, which includes about 1,600 insurance agents, will be the first to convene at the center on Friday. The Burlington-based group previously held conventions in Atlanta and Dallas. Misty Thebeau, with National Agents Alliance, said the group wanted to bring money to Raleigh.