The Durango Business Improvement District (BID) was formed in 1997 for the purpose of exploring how to build and operate a conference center facility in downtown Durango.
A multi-year study was done in the late ’90s, then was updated in 2007. Both showed how a conference center could work in Durango.
Unfortunately, as we know, no such facility has ever been built. There have been plans and ideas over the past 20 years, but nothing that ever stuck. However, today there is strong movement again toward this type of facility.
BID’s 2007 update study produced plans for a 28,000-square-foot conference center. The rooms could be configured in different ways to produce a large ballroom that could hold 1,200 people at a sit-down dinner, or smaller rooms that would hold a couple hundred people. There was also smaller spaces for groups of 50 or less.
After finding a suitable location, and creating the funding to build it, this conference center would have required an annual operating subsidy. All conference centers operate at a loss. The loss is made up in increased sales tax from spending from those attending conferences.
Today, a group of arts and business leaders, including Durango Area Tourism Office, is seriously exploring how to create a modified version of the conference center. The concept is an arts and events center, with space designed for multiple uses at the same time. These include a theater, a rehearsal theater, a large lobby, breakout rooms and a full catering kitchen.
To decrease the annual operating subsidy for the facility, the trick is to fill it with money-producing events as much as possible to maximize revenue. Everything from conferences for 450 people, to local events for 200, to weddings and even small meetings of 20 people need to be accommodated.
So why now after all the years of studying this concept?
The city of Durango is budgeting for flat sales tax growth in 2018. That’s better than a decrease, but it shows that growth is slowing. We have seen this in 2016 sales tax collections, and also in 2017, year to date. Sales tax is still growing, but at a slower rate than in the years coming out of the recession. Year to date through the city’s September report, sales tax collections are up 1.5 percent for the entire city, and up 1 percent for the Central Business District.
An investment in an arts and events center could reverse that trend. More people coming to town for mid-sized conferences means heads in beds, which increases lodgers tax, which in turn provides more funding to market Durango to the next group. It also means more people in town who need to eat, who will shop and who will want to come back with their families and friends in the future.
BID will continue to play a leadership role in exploring this idea further. Stay tuned for more information as things progress.
Tim Walsworth is executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.