No Room at the Inn
April 30, 2009 12:13 PM
It has been more than a decade since Madison opened the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Under its director Jim Hess, Monona Terrace has been a great success. In an average year, Monona Terrace hosts about 60 major conventions and about another 600 smaller events.
But this substantial public investment could do even better. Probably the most significant thing holding Monona Terrace back is the lack of hotel rooms near the convention center. A recent study indicated that while 82% of meeting planners said Monona Terrace was large enough for their events, over half said there weren't enough hotel rooms nearby. The study estimated that over $50 million of business went someplace else between 2000 and 2007 because of that problem. The study also said that Monona Terrace could compete for 44% more conventions if it had more hotel rooms at hand.
To answer the problem, we're working with the Marcus hotel group to develop another hotel on a parking lot behind the Madison Municipal Building and across the street from the existing Hilton Hotel. It's an exciting proposal that could involve a restoration of the historic MMB as part of the project. But it won't be cheap, and due mostly to the high cost of building the necessary parking on site, the City is considering tax incremental financing as part of the development package.
This has some downtown hotel owners concerned because they see it as City help for new competition - why do this for Marcus and not others?
The answer is, because we're not doing it for Marcus, we're doing it for the City. More hotel rooms downtown mean more conventions at the Monona Terrace and more visitors to Madison. Those visitors will eat in our restaurants, buy things in our downtown shops, pay sales taxes (some of which go to support Dane County services) and room taxes, (some of which will go to support City services and marketing of Madison as a destination) and generally contribute to our economy. And, of course, more people will be introduced to Madison and will want to return. When they do, they might stay at any number of hotels.
So, I'm considering support for the new Marcus hotel because it means our publicly owned convention center can do even better and pay back the taxpayers' investment in it, and because it will mean an even stronger local economy. Conventions and tourism are clean industries that allow us to show off a beautiful city, and they bring money into the community. I understand why some other Madison hotel owners are nervous about the Marcus project, but they shouldn't be. A rising tide will lift all boats.