Although it has only been six months since the renovation of the Tulsa Convention Center was completed, the $32.5-million project already is paying dividends, according to the facility's manager.
John Bolton of SMG, the local manager of the private firm that manages the convention center, as well as the BOK Center, said the building's year-to-date numbers compared to the same period a year ago are showing healthy growth, despite a national economy that has taken a heavy toll on convention and tourism business.
"From a general perspective, the response to the facility has been phenomenal," he said. "But to truly realize the impact, you're probably looking at two to five years because so much of our business is long term because we're bidding on stuff that's two, four or five years away.
"But the difference is, we've got a really nice product to sell," he said. "It's like night and day to what it was before."
According to numbers provided by Bolton, the convention center has been the site of 217 events for fiscal year 2009 through April, compared to 180 for the same period a year ago -- an improvement of 21 percent. Its adjusted gross income for the current fiscal year is more than $1.3 million, compared to a little more than $1 million for the same time a year ago -- 27 percent better. And its net operating income shows a loss of nearly $1.7 million, compared to almost $2.5 million last year, an improvement of 32 percent.
"Obviously, the numbers are showing a very positive gain," Bolton said, something he attributes to the changes that have been undertaken at the building.
The highlight of the renovated convention center is a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest in the state, with a north-facing glass wall that overlooks the BOK Center. Seven new meeting rooms were added, as well as a 13,000-square-foot pre-function area suitable for use as a registration area for receptions.
A prep kitchen was added, along with a green room for event headliners. And the building's south entry, across Seventh Street from the Doubletree Hotel, was rebuilt, with its steps being torn out and reconstructed and a new canopy put in place. Elsewhere in the building, new scoreboards were installed, the restrooms were reconditioned, and the arena ceiling and walls were repainted.
The improvements were paid for out of Vision 2025 funds approved several years ago by Tulsa County voters.
The convention center now has 35 meeting rooms available, enough to meet the specifications of planners of some larger religious conventions, officials have said in the past.
Bolton was especially pleased with the numbers the convention center has posted, especially in light of the impact the recession has had on the convention industry nationwide. Typically, he said, conventions that used to attract 1,000 people now draw around 700.
"It's had a considerable impact," he said. "For most venues outside our region, I would say (the recession's) been as big as Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, you're not only talking about the numbers of people registered, but also food and beverage sales, and (events being trimmed) from four days to two days. All of that adds up.
"But we haven't felt it here as much as our friends in other areas of the country. I think we're in a pretty enviable position."
Bolton said SMG works in partnership with the Tulsa Metro Chamber's convention and visitors bureau to attract business for the convention center, though each has its own focus. SMG tends to concentrate on events that are scheduled from the present to 18 months out, while the CVB targets events scheduled for 18 months out or longer.
As encouraged as he is by the early returns, Bolton expects the outlook for the convention center to become even brighter as some of that long-range planning begins to pay off.
"There's only positives going forward from here, although convention business is tough to get in general," he said.
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