Why are conventions important to St. Louis?
St. Louis annually welcomes over 26 million visitors for leisure, conventions, meetings and business travel. These visitors spend $5.8 billion in St. Louis and help create 88,000 jobs for area residents generating annual wages of $3.22 billion. The America’s Center Convention Complex is a key part of driving our local travel and tourism industry and is hugely important for the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the State of Missouri. The convention center anchors an entire sub-sector of the City’s Downtown and brings hundreds of thousands of out-of-town visitors to the metro area every year.
The conventions, meetings and events held at America’s Center generate $258 million in direct spending making our convention complex a vital economic engine for the region. It is important to note that conventions impact the entire region as many of our largest conventions use hotels in both St. Louis City and County. In addition, when large conventions fill downtown hotels, hotels in the surrounding area experienced higher occupancy and rate performance.
How many conventions are held each year in America’s Center?
On an annual basis, the complex hosts an average of 109 events generating over 600,000 attendees, 350,000 hotel room nights, and $258 million of direct spending to the regional economy, supporting the equivalent of 3,340 full-time jobs.
Now that football has left the Dome and it is only 23 years old, what will it be used for?
The Dome remains a key component of the America’s Center complex offering customers unique flexibility in hosting large-scale events. It remains a tremendous venue for sporting events, concerts, meetings as well as conventions, and offers planners with the flexibility to stage large indoor events for various size groups.
Since the building will no longer serve as a football stadium, changes are needed to make it more compatible to the needs of convention and meeting clients. Some of these changes include enhanced connectivity to the convention center, as well as ensuring the Dome’s exhibit space is more aesthetically and functionally consistent with the other exhibit halls in America’s Center.
Why shouldn’t we tear down the Dome?
The Dome at America’s Center is a unique asset that helps distinguish us from competing cities. Built only 23 years ago, it hosts an average of 35 non-football events each year. However, the Dome needs changes to make it a better convention facility so we can compete with other cities, which are making improvements and enhancements to their facilities.
From Indianapolis to Nashville, cities are investing in new and enhanced facilities with amenities and services that are creating a gap in what we can offer customers. Our efforts are focused on finding solutions to best position the entire America’s Center complex (including the Dome) to compete and win business to help bring these lucrative conventions and meetings to St. Louis.
How does the America’s Center convention complex stack up to convention facilities in other cities?
You don’t have to look far to see our challenges. Cities across the country, including the Midwest, are investing and building new, state-of-the-art convention facilities that are not only drawing rave reviews from meeting planners who select destinations, but their attendees as well. The recently opened $623 million Music City Center in Nashville is considered to be one of the finest convention facilities in the country, and is a prime example of the efforts being made by cities to offer customers one-of-a-kind facilities with the latest in amenities.
Through the years, we’ve made improvements to the American’s Center Convention Complex (including the Cervantes Convention Center) that originally opened in 1977. This included a southern expansion in 1993, the opening of The Dome in 1995, cosmetic upgrades in 2007 and finally a renovation in 2009-13 that included a new roof, renovated elevators, escalators, lighting systems, carpeting and restroom upgrades. However even with these ongoing investments, we continue to lag behind these new convention facilities and cities that are aggressively working to lure convention business away from St. Louis.
What sets St. Louis apart from its competitors?
St. Louis is a place where history and magic collide, and the result is a destination like no other. In the heart of a revitalized downtown, a vibrant new hospitality district continues to grow. We are centrally located and have convenient and reliable air lift, with more than 230 daily flights into St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The MetroLink light rail system makes it an easy reach downtown and the convention corridor with world-class attractions and nightlife.
With some of the most premier hotel brands in the industry, including Marriott, Four Seasons, Hilton, Embassy Suites, Drury, Holiday Inn and Hyatt, there are more than 7,300 available guest rooms in downtown St. Louis and 39,000 rooms in the metropolitan area. More than 1,750 of those rooms are newly remodeled and all within steps of America’s Center.
The convention corridor is compact and walkable making it easy to connect with colleagues and friends no matter where they are staying downtown. Between meetings, St. Louis has an array of world-class attractions for attendees to enjoy, including the historic Gateway Arch, the National Blues Museum, City Museum, Busch Stadium, live music/entertainment and a variety of restaurants sure to please any palate, and all within steps from the convention center and major downtown hotels. Quite simply, we offer planners and attendees an affordable and memorable convention destination.
What do we need to do to grow convention business?
Interviews with past, current and potential customers reveal that while the America’s Center Convention complex does well with the facilities it has, it is approaching a point where its portfolio of events is outgrowing the current inventory of space. The consultants’ report recommends that we make the following improvements in order to keep the Complex successful in attracting convention business.
- The expansion of our current ballroom space with improved back-of-the-house and support functionality
- Additional loading docks to efficiently move exhibit freight in and out of the facility
- Improved connectivity between the Dome and the Cervantes Convention Center
- Enhancements to make the Dome more aesthetically and functionally consistent with the other exhibit halls
What happens if we don’t invest?
If we do not address these and other areas, the gap between America’s Center and our competitors will grow and we will begin to lose these lucrative conventions to cities that are investing and expanding their facilities. According to the consultants, if our center is not upgraded and expanded, business will decline, resulting in a minimum 14 percent loss in hotel room bookings, direct spending and jobs.
If improvements are made to the America’s Center, it is projected that a minimum increase of 37 percent will be realized and will position this sector of our regional economy for continued growth. Consultants estimate the needed improvements will allow us to attract an average of 171 events, generating 675,000 attendees, over 557,000 rooms nights and $355 million of direct spending for the regional economy. That’s not only a win for the local hospitality industry, but for the entire community.
Moving Forward: The Plan to Update, Modernize & Expand The America’s Center Convention Complex
With approval from both St. Louis City and St. Louis County the AC Next Gen project to expand America’s Center is moving forward. This $175 million project will include the following elements, as well as several other improvements.
- Addition of 92,000 square feet of highly usable exhibit space, which changes the exhibit hall layout of the Complex allowing the facility to host larger events.
- A 65,000 square feet signature multi-purpose ballroom and meeting area with 20,000 square feet pre-function event space for clients, positioning St. Louis dominantly in its competitive set.
- 22,000 square feet of new support space to improve service access to current and new exhibit halls and ballrooms.
- The construction of 26 new loading docks and renovation of existing 12 docks that will all be enclosed to enhance access and aesthetics of the building and surrounding areas.
- An outdoor pavilion to serve the needs of convention attendees and improve the convention center district ambiance for residents and area workers as well.
- Refurbishment of the central Washington Avenue entrance, which serves as St. Louis’ front door for the hundreds of thousands of event attendees who visit the Complex.
- The Dome will remain a flexible multi-purpose venue for meeting planners and other clients hosting large-scale events and activities.
How can I support the benefits of conventions our community realizes?
The best way you can help is by sharing this page with your social networks, as well as contacting your elected officials and let them know your thoughts. Also, we hope you will share with us why conventions are important to you. If you work in the hospitality industry and your livelihood depends upon the success of St. Louis to attract convention business, we want to hear your story and help share it with everyone in our region.
Working together we can ensure St. Louis remains a preferred meeting and convention destination by investing in the America’s Center so it can continue to serve as a key economic engine for our community.