After initial research, informal surveys and brainstorming sessions for a new convention center in Montezuma County, it is now time for a feasibility study, said a small group of organizers.
Local chambers of commerce, retail and tourism officials have offered anecdotal evidence suggesting some demand exists for a larger meeting space in the county. Supporters say event and conference organizers are attracted to the Cortez area, but if they need accommodations for more than 200 people, they have to look elsewhere.
“It seems like a feasibility study is the number one thing to do,” said Sam Proffer with the city of Cortez.
The group said the study would help answer key questions such as: Is there a large enough market for one? What is the appropriate size? What are the costs for construction and annual operations? Where is the best location? Should it be government subsidized? Can local transportation services handle the influx of people? Should it include an attached hotel and restaurant? What if Durango builds one?
Representatives from the city of Cortez, Montezuma County, Cortez Retail Enhancement Association, the Montezuma County Lodgers Association and interested residents agreed to advocate for the study and to work on drafting a request for proposals.
Cost estimates for a feasibility study ranged from $10,000 to $70,000, and would be shared among local governments. A grant from the Department of Local Affairs might also be sought. A point person or owner’s representative should be considered for the proposed project, organizers said.
Currently, boosters of the convention center are debating whether to build a new one at the county fairgrounds or remodel the old Walmart building that has been vacant for years. Locating it within the hotel district might also be ideal.
The parameters of the feasibility study are also important, the group said, and need to be ironed out before the RFP is released.
The group debated whether there should be a study of the potential market for a center before determining the best location. They also discussed if the study should analyze the demand market, plus look at the pros and cons of both locations.
The county has offered to pay for a new facility at the fairgrounds, if the city and other organizations agree to run operations.
But so far, the city has not “given us feedback” about whether they are on board with the concept, said county planning director Don Haley.
If the Walmart location is chosen, the county contribution, amounting to millions of dollars, would not be as generous, county officials have said.
A partnership between the city, county and private business, supports say, seems to be the right formula to move the project forward.
“Getting the private sector involved is important,” Proffer said.
For example, a restaurant could partner with the project and operate a year-round eatery while also providing catering and food service for convention attendees. Public space for the burgeoning cottage food industry would also serve the community and support operations.
“Convention centers are there to break even and put people in hotels and restaurants to strengthen the local economy,” said Brian Bartlett with the county lodgers tax committee.
The feasibility study might also analyze how a public-private partnership among different entities could work. The timeline for the analysis would likely stretch into 2020 to allow time for developing an RFP, putting it on the street, interviewing applicants and for the study itself.
Organizers said that it is important to keep in mind that the study could suggest that Cortez is not a practical market for a convention center.
On the other hand, tying in a potential convention and events center with the Mesa Verde National Park tramway concept should also be a consideration, said planner James Dietrich. The idea of a gondola from Cortez to the park has been floating around for years, with benefits being less traffic and pollution on the park road and adding another tourist attraction.