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New Center Touted As Economic Catalyst

May 11, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

Convention bookings at the new Connecticut Convention Center will fill 121,000 hotel room-nights and generate $21.9 million in economic impact from hotel stays during its first year of operation, the executive director of the new center said Tuesday at this month's Rising Star Breakfast.

When the $271 million state-owned convention center officially opens June 2, it will be Hartford's first new major public building in a generation. Ben Seidel, the center's executive director, said the project's completion represents not just "bricks and mortar," but an economic catalyst that will allow Metro Hartford to directly compete with cities such as Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Milwaukee for group tourism business.

"It's the reason that thousands of convention delegates are coming next year," Seidel said.

But Seidel said the new building can help the region overcome another opponent - its image of itself.

"For those of us who live here, we can be pretty hard on ourselves," Seidel said. Outside Connecticut, he said the new convention center - coupled with the arts, heritage, recreational and location advantages of central Connecticut - is elevating Hartford to the status "a new player" in the competition for tourism.

Those attributes allowed Hartford to make the short list to host the 2010 meeting of the American Legion, despite the fact that the region has fewer hotel rooms in close proximity to the convention site than the Legion typically wants to see, he said. Hartford lost out to Milwaukee, but has been invited back to compete for the 2011 meeting.

"I look at that as a success story," Seidel said. "We built something that is taking national notice."

The goal of the convention center, which can host meetings ranging from a dozen people to at least 17,000, is to spread as much spending into the local economy as possible. Seidel said that many of the people working on any particular convention, from florists to photographers, won't be convention center employees.

"We sell space," he said. "Virtually all of these other services are doled out to local business and work forces, whenever possible."

The total economic impact of the convention center, factoring in trade shows and the host of local events that will use the building, is estimated at about $58 million. The convention center has yet to book the number of large conventions - the large multiple-day meetings that attract visitors from across the country, fill hotel rooms and produce the largest economic impact - predicted by consultants who recommended the state build the center.

But the center has been able to fill in with other events, such as banquets and local consumer shows, and the total of 200 events and 250,000 total visitors expected to use the convention center during its first year are ahead of projections, Seidel said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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