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Published: Tuesday, 1/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Kalahari poised to be Erie's largest employer

Resort planning $22M expansion

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A chef prepares dinner at the NIA Center, at the Kalahari Resort, in Sandusky, Ohio. Kalahari is expanding the conference center by 120,000 square feet.
A chef prepares dinner at the NIA Center, at the Kalahari Resort, in Sandusky, Ohio. Kalahari is expanding the conference center by 120,000 square feet.
KALAHARI Enlarge

SANDUSKY — Kalahari Resort is poised to become Erie County's largest employer following Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony at the sprawling resort.

A $22 million, 120,000-square-foot addition to the facility's convention center is slated to bring more than 140 jobs to the area, Erie County Commissioner Thomas Ferrell said.

"Right now, it's the second-largest employer in Erie County," Mr. Ferrell said. "By the end of the year, with the jobs they'll have, they'll probably become the largest employer."

Firelands Regional Medical Center currently holds the title as Erie County's largest employer.

The convention center, which was completed last month, has room for 5,200 attendees and contains a 38,000-square-foot grand ballroom/expo center, a 12,000-square-foot junior ballroom, and 14 meeting rooms.

The expansion was privately funded, and its details were not released.

Kalahari employs more than 1,250 people, said Brian Shanle, general manager of the resort. The majority of those jobs and the more than 140 that could be added are full-time.

The 10-month project to expand the convention center boosted its size from 95,000 square feet to 215,000 square feet and is expected to generate about $150 million in taxable revenue over the next 20 years, Mr. Shanle said.

Kalahari spans 128 acres and has undergone more than $200 million in expansions since it opened in 2005.

"It certainly demonstrates our investment in the community and the state of Ohio," Mr. Shanle said of the privately owned company.

Bill Monaghan, president of the Erie County Board of Commissioners, said the resort has been a boon for businesses along U.S. 250. The expansion will add to the stream of customers that frequent the restaurants and shops along the highway, he said.

"It's actually a great opportunity for Erie County not only to add about 140 jobs but have continued increases in our sales tax throughout the winter," Mr. Monaghan said.

Rob Greenbaum, an associate professor at the John Glenn school of public affairs at Ohio State University, said a convention center's success depends on how well it is marketed and whether it can attract business.

Building massive expansions doesn't guarantee a bright financial future, he said.

"Like with other aspects of economic development, it has been a kind of arms race with convention centers," Mr. Greenbaum said.

Mr. Monaghan said plans are under way for more changes at Kalahari, although he said he couldn't disclose what they are.

"Kalahari's owner's motto for a long time has been, ‘Go big or go home,'?" he said. "We weren't halfway through this project, and we started having meetings on what's next."

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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