Continued discussions to build a convention and events center include a new idea of locating it at the old Walmart building in the Cortez Plaza.
Cortez and Montezuma County officials have been meeting with local tourism and business groups to explore the concept of a convention center as a way to boost the economy.
In March, county commissioners offered to build it at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds and pay for construction if the city of Cortez and other groups covered operational costs.
Boosters envision a modern facility between 20,000- to 35,000-square-foot building with a main meeting room capacity of 700 to 1,500 people. There would be additional breakout meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen, indoor and outdoor eating areas, landscaped grounds, lots of parking and an outdoor amphitheater. Costs estimates are between $4 million and $7 million.
Ryan Maley, manager of the Cortez Plaza, suggested renovating the old Walmart building into a convention center.
The 66,000-square-foot building has been vacant for years, and a decade of efforts to attract big-box store tenants has not been successful. Recently, a local church’s plan to move in fell through.
“It is an alternative option to consider for a convention center,” Maley said. “It has 400 parking places, fiber optics, room to expand and is central to local hotels.”
County commissioners said they are open to all ideas and potential locations, but indicated that if the convention center were located in city limits, their offer of covering the majority of construction costs would not be as generous.
“That would impact our contribution. It needs to be equitable,” said Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
The county Planning Department plans to put out requests for proposals for the project. Grants will sought to help pay for initial feasibility and business plans.
An informal, five-question survey on the convention center idea generated 529 mostly positive responses, said Brian Bartlett, manager of the Baymont Inn.
Hotel guests and attendees at the Home and Garden Show were asked about possible and benefits of a convention center, the events and food at the center, and whether they would support increasing the lodgers tax to help fund the center.
Survey responders put concerts and gun and knife shows at the top of their list. As to the benefits, 420 respondents said there would be a benefit to the community, and 18 said there would not be. On increasing the lodgers tax, 405 were OK with it, and 61 were not. American food should be served, said 308 respondents. Navajo tacos were a close second.
More comprehensive surveys are needed to reach the wider community and gauge support, officials said.
Tourism officials noted organizers of large conventions have expressed an interest in Cortez, but they were turned away because of lack of adequate space. The center would generate jobs, officials said, and training in hospitality services could be provided by Pueblo Community College.
Careful planning is critical, said Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek, and there is much information that needs to be gathered before a decision is made. Feasibility studies with consultants who specialize in convention centers are needed to further analyze the proposal.
“We don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” she said.