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Ward 6 news: Why Calgary needs a bigger convention centre

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Ward 6 Official Website

The following article was published in the Calgary Herald on May 15, 2012:

Blessed with a rich resource environment and an entrepreneurial spirit, Calgary’s drive to create new ideas and wealth is unstoppable.

As we consider our choices from among many desirable and city-enriching public projects, our convention centre has a unique opportunity energize Calgary’s success. In addition to attracting conventions from out of town, we can also develop our own conventions to attract delegates and businesses from around the world.

Hosting conventions and exhibitions has had a proven and powerful economic benefit for many sectors of our economy. Conventions offer benefits including the sharing of know-how and technology that drives business. Some of the talent we are now searching for globally arrives here to not only to attend a convention but also to determine their opportunities in our city. Vendors attend to present new services and products. Relationship building and effective networking are natural and important outcomes of conventions.

The traditional model for convention centres has been for a city to build an attractive facility targeted at the national and international convention markets. Then, a municipality engages a top quality board, management, operating staff and a talented marketing team to compete internationally for convention business. All of these are in place at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre now.

Unfortunately we currently have the 9th largest (soon to rank as 10th largest once the Halifax facility is completed) convention centre in Canada. As a desirable destination, we attract interest from convention organizers globally. But, due to our current building constraints, we have lost over 100 opportunities to host significant conventions in recent years. Therefore, we have foregone millions of dollars of economic benefits and millions of connections. Calgary has also given other cities the opportunity to present to thousands of delegates and businesses that could have been our delegates and potential partners. To compete, we need to build a new convention centre.

Each level of government across Canada and the United States is participating in a competition for economic spin-offs from their new convention centres. Convention delegates, do indeed, contribute substantially to our local economy with their consumption of accommodation, food and travel services. However, attracting these conventions has become extremely competitive in the North American market which is very well served with facilities. In our continental market, most convention centres are built by governments with operations being supported by governments.  Historically economic spin-offs from convention centres have traditionally more than offset the subsidies but this model is being increasingly challenged. Furthermore, the public sector is now compelled by taxpayers to seek creative, more sustainable solutions to infrastructure investment challenges.

We are lucky to be considering a new building at the end of this convention centre expansionary cycle and to be among the first who can develop a new solution as the Board Chair Mr. Bob Holmes calls it, the Convention Centre of the 21st Century. This solution will include developing our own conventions to attract delegates from around the world. With our vibrant economy, we have the economic strength to create and promote demand for our Calgary hosted new conventions in addition to the traditional convention business. Indigenous demand for convention space will help greatly in supporting a new facility. Our objectives would include maximizing the convention centre delegate experience, actively participating in the development of our own industries and minimizing risk for taxpayers. While there are direct spin-offs from attracting delegates, the business development benefits for our economy have even more potential.

How does this work? For example, in one industry we could be engaging with our successful airline to create and host conventions presenting a broad range of marketable themes; from the power of an excellent corporate culture to industry best practices to the secrets of sustained, entrepreneurially driven growth. Other sectors including energy, financial services, transportation and logistics, real estate development, technology, manufacturing and professional services are well positioned to develop innovative new conventions and each has abundant opportunities to use these conventions to grow their businesses. In the public sector, there is also a broad range of fields including infrastructure, water management, transportation, transit, health, education and planning for Calgary, with its high growth rates, that attracts interest from experts around the world who attend conventions and trade shows.

The exciting part of growing our own conventions is that support for a new convention centre would be also be stimulated by local demand, a more interesting and dependable proposition than relying on others to support our investment. The investment risk to taxpayers will be lower. The time it will take to establish conventions that require more space than we have now fits well with when the new convention centre will be completed.

This is actually the European convention centre strategy, successfully driven by municipally based businesses. Many of these convention centres are profitable, and some such as in Frankfurt are an integral part of their City's economic development. Their tradition of assembling people to learn more about best practices, the latest innovations, skill development, talent attraction and product promotion goes back to medieval times. We need to not only create our own convention demand with international reach but, more importantly, we should support the business demands of our growing city with its tremendous potential.

The most credible ask of the taxpayer for a new convention centre will be from local convention developers who have created a significant demand for one. Starting with smaller home grown events then building them to a scale that requires a larger centre will provide the final and compelling argument for a new centre. The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre looks forward to discussing how we can help you develop your new convention ideas!

Richard Pootmans, Alderman Ward 6
Board Member, Calgary TELUS Convention Centre

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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