It already has an African theme, and now the one-year-old Kalahari Resort in Sandusky wants to become a lion among convention sites in northwest Ohio.
The Kalahari, which opened in March, 2005, and features a large indoor water park, today opens its new $19 million conference center to complement its 600-room resort.
That will make the site a prime competitor with convention sites closer to Toledo. It also plans to snare business from Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Detroit.
Some hoteliers in the Toledo area are concerned.
Patrick Czarny, general manager of Maumee Bay Resort and Conference Center, said, "For our property, there's definitely going to be some lost business to them. But I think it will be even more of an impact on the very large hotels downtown [in Toledo]."
A selling point Kalahari will have that few others won't is its newness, he said.
Jim Donnelly, who heads the Toledo-Lucas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Todd Nelson, president of Kalahari Resorts, which is based in The Dells, Wis., said the company operates a similar convention center in Wisconsin. Just under half its business is from conventions and conferences.
The company has been wanting to add a conference center in Sandusky because it has a natural draw nearby with Cedar Point amusement park, and the prospect of luring conventions is high when a mix of business and pleasure can be sold. Plus, it is in between Toledo and Cleveland.
"I think people that are truly looking for a different and unique meeting place are going to look at us," he said.
The company also plans to build 288 more rooms - to be ready by December, 2007 - which could make Kalahari the largest hotel in Ohio.
Some conventions, however, won't leave Toledo for Sandusky. For example, the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce books events in local hotels because it feels an obligation to use its members' services, said Marsha Schroeder, director of member services.
And, said Michael Sapara, general manager of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Toledo, other conventions, such as the Weak Signals radio-controlled hobby show and the Jehovah's Witnesses, have become so connected with Toledo it's unlikely they would go elsewhere.
"We're insulated to a certain degree," he said. "Many conventions are not coming here to be entertained. Still, it is important to have Fifth Third Field and good restaurants across the river."
But John Logsdon, general manager of the Clarion Inn Westgate, said Kalahari's new conference center could steal some business.
"I could see them taking business from Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, and Detroit," he said.
"Most associations, age-wise, probably are not going to take advantage of a water park. But there are a small number of associations and groups that they could market to who would like that sort of thing."
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