Location, location, location.
Right now, it's the only thing that matters for those charged by the MAPS 3 Advisory Board with discussing the city's new convention center. Eleven people were chosen to focus solely on the bond issue's priciest item.
And at a $280 million price tag, committee members are well aware they have only one shot to get it right.
Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and committee member, says the committee passed a resolution in its first meeting outlining the general scope of what a soon-to-be hired consultant will have. The consultant ultimately will report findings back to the board to help it present a recommendation.
While there's much talk about where the best site for the new center is, Williams says, with all due respect, it's not about those doing the talking.
"It's good that people care about it, but the reality of it is, for convention centers to be successful, they can't be randomly selected. It's not a popularity contest," he says. "You have to keep in mind who the customer is here. You can't mis-site this and make up by the other things you put around it. That doesn't work. You have to focus on why you have a convention center, and it's to hold successful conventions."
Williams says it's rare that retail and restaurants "sprout up" around a convention center simply because of the cyclical nature of events held there. Not having everyday convention traffic means an uncertain future for retail, and either feast or famine for restaurants.
With virtual certainty, the center will be located somewhere in Downtown or Bricktown. One major reason is the cluster of hotels in both areas. At first look three years ago, Williams says there were only "four or five" locations within walking distance of the Downtown hotel cluster.
John Williams, general manager of the Skirvin Hotel, has worked in 12 hotels across the country over the past 32 years.
"I've seen good stuff and bad stuff," he says of convention centers. "I don't necessarily have a territorial interest. I don't have a preconceived notion of where this thing should go. We want to do the right thing so we have the right product in the right place for the convention-goer." DO THE RIGHT THING
With phase one of the project putting in 500,000 square feet, John Williams cautions that a multiphase project is risky.
"I'd like us to build the whole thing and build it right so we can economically do this thing," he says, "but not rely on creating a future based on a phase two, three or four."
Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Mike Carrier has the most vested interest in where the convention center will be located. He also holds much experience in the planning process, with more than 30 years in the hospitality industry. He managed a convention center in Shreveport, La., and served on center-building projects in Columbia, S.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Jackson, Miss.
He says the consumer is really the only voice that matters.
The four-square-block Cox Center is "grossly undersized," Carrier says, in terms of both meeting and exhibition space. A 25,000-square-foot ballroom with 27,000 square feet of breakout space is currently available. Also available are 82,000 square feet of exhibition space with a 25-foot ceiling, and another 18,000 square feet with a 14-foot ceiling.
Industry-standard ceiling heights are 30 feet, which puts Oklahoma City out of the running for many exhibitions, Carrier says. The new center calls for 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, 50,000 square feet of meeting space and 35,000 square feet of ballroom space.
"That puts us into a competitive environment with other cities of similar size and demographics," Carrier says. "This is what we need to be a Tier II city. We are very close in terms of overall hotel product citywide. We still need the headquarters hotel that would go with the convention center, but this gives us the meeting and exhibit space we need to really be included in the Tier II city conversation."
None of the members contacted could offer a firm timetable, but most agreed between five and 10 years is a workable estimate.
"Five is probably too close, and hopefully, 10 is too far out," Roy Williams says.
From John Williams' perspective, even though the building isn't being built for Oklahoma City residents, it should be the most profitable in the MAPS 3 initiative.
"We have to keep in mind, while this is probably the single largest cash outlay in the MAPS program, this has probably one of the best opportunities of all the projects to drive a significant financial return to the city and taxpayers," he says. "The key is to look at all the forces in play and get it right."