Local News

Raleigh Convention Center in red after first year

Posted September 2, 2009 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2009 3:45 p.m. EDT

— The $220 million Raleigh Convention Center lost about $1 million during its first year of operation, officials said Wednesday.

The convention center opened last Sept. 6 to great fanfare – and rainy, blustery weather brought in by Tropical Storm Hanna – with city leaders predicting it would become a key component in the ongoing effort to revive Raleigh's downtown.

Financial figures through the end of Raleigh's fiscal year in June show the convention center had expenses of $5.17 million while bringing it only $4.21 million in revenue during its first 10 months of operation.

Sales and marketing director Laurie Okun said the convention center has maintained that financial track during July and August and will close out its inaugural year with a $1 million loss.

"We did a lot of pre-selling and a lot of that pre-selling had to do with discounts. Sometimes you have to give and take," Okun said.

Still, city officials maintain that the convention center has proved to be a success.

The facility hosted 273 events in its first year, with a combined attendance of 353,041. The number of events was 6 percent above projections made last year by a New York-based consultant hired by the city, while the attendance figure was 56 percent above projections.

"The facility was not designed to make a profit. The facility was built to put heads in beds," Okun said. "We delivered on the hype."

Seventeen conventions that were held at the convention center during the year have already decided to return to Raleigh in future years, she said.

"We work very, very hard to back-fill what will make us money," she said.

Mayor Charles Meeker agreed that the convention center was an unqualified success at bringing people to Raleigh for conventions and trade shows last year. He added that area taxpayers aren't subsidizing the losses because the facility is funded through hotel and restaurant taxes.

"What it's designed to do is bring people here, in part to have meetings, but also to bring their money here to Wake County, where it's spent," Meeker said. "The county gets the return of that money by (having) people employed as well as (having the money) bouncing around the community."