Sandy Isenberg is right. The president of the Lucas County commissioners says this is no time to be considering a property tax increase to expand SeaGate Centre. However, a boost in the hotel-motel tax is not out of the question, since it would be paid for primarily by visitors, the folks who would benefit from a new and improved facility.
Expanding the convention center is an intriguing idea, now that Fifth Third Field just across the street is up, running, and attracting record crowds to Mud Hens games.
After showing mixed success in recent years, SeaGate Centre's operating costs remain lower than average while its occupancy rate this year stands at an admirable 70 percent, which national guidelines suggest is about the best that can be expected. And Jim Donnelly, the ever-optimistic director of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, maintains he could book another 40 lucrative conventions a year - if he had the space.
But talk of a tax increase to add a ballroom and more meeting rooms to the facility should be held in abeyance for a while, as Toledoans ponder rising sewer rates, a major school construction bond proposal, and other issues that will hit them in the wallet.
Nonetheless, the future for attracting more visitors to the city is bright and getting brighter.
Booking conventions, at least during the baseball season, becomes an easier job when there's more to offer convention-goers and their families in the way of leisure activity. In the immediate downtown area, the Mud Hens fill that bill, as does nearby COSI and a growing retinue of fine restaurants
Good eating abounds at The Docks, in easy reach across the Maumee River, and once the Marina District project gets under way on the east side, we'll have a refurbished Sports Arena for events year-round.
At 8 percent, Toledo's lodging tax is still below the state high of 10 percent charged in Columbus. Not surprisingly, hotel and motel proprietors oppose any increase, but there is room for one, if barely. This is the least objectionable form of a tax, since local people rarely pay it.
A succession of consultants have prepared reports suggesting that SeaGate Centre should be doubled in size to attract more business. Consultants, of course, are always in favor of expansion, especially when it expands their own business.
In their eagerness for larger quarters, convention bureau officials should not dismiss out-of-hand the cautionary advice offered - for nothing - by Haywood Sanders, a professor of public policy at the University of Texas, San Antonio. He points out that convention business nationally has been dropping since 1989.
Meanwhile, enthusiastic operators in many cities have steadily increased the size of their facilities to the point, in some cases, of diminishing returns, Detroit's Cobo Hall being one such example.
SeaGate Centre has room to expand, but financing obstacles still must be overcome. Any attempt to do so by adding to the tax bills of Toledoans in the immediate future probably would be met with a firm “no.”
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