Consider what convention-goers are looking for in deciding whether to attend a convention. Besides the event program and the convention facility, convention-goers naturally are drawn to locations that offer abundant opportunities in sightseeing, shopping, dining and entertainment. Downtown—uniquely among the locations that have been studied—has those attributes in abundance. As anyone who has been downtown knows, the heart of the city is thriving, and has been in a years-long renaissance that continues gaining momentum with ambitious redevelopment projects.
The most ambitious, the Block 9 tower, which will start construction next month, is an example of the increasing hospitality options that are available only in downtown. The building will include retail space and an upscale hotel. The downtowns are unsurpassed in their entertainment options, including two art museums, the Hjemkomst Center, and Broadway bristling with its distinctive shops, restaurants and clubs. Soon, a greenway will allow visitors to walk or bicycle in even more enticing scenery along the Red River.
By comparison, the other sites are culturally impoverished. Although the Fargodome is a first-rate venue for concerts, Bison football games and assorted other events, there is little around it to capture a visitor’s eye or imagination. A person walking outside the convention center if it were built adjacent to the Fargodome would confront an area that is inhospitable to pedestrians—convention-goers with the time and means would, in all likelihood, go downtown to seek out shopping or entertainment. Why not make it easy and inviting for them to do so?
Interestingly, although the consultants gave the Fargodome the edge in its rankings, they concluded a downtown location would be less expensive to build—$76.5 million downtown, compared to $84.5 million next to the Fargodome. Alternatives at West Acres and near Scheels Arena were more costly, and ranked lower.
Earlier, the consultants determined that a convention center located either downtown or at the Fargodome would generate visitor spending of $14 million to $16 million a year. Yet, in presenting the location comparison, a consultant said he believed a downtown location would have the greatest economic impact. In both costs and revenues, downtown offers more bang for the buck.
It’s no accident that major cities consistently built their convention centers downtown. It’s a proven formula, and it’s the path that city leaders should take when deciding where to locate the convention center.
Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.