For the Montezuma County commissioners to offer to undertake the construction of a convention center at the county fairgrounds east of Cortez is an auspicious step in county-city cooperation on what could be a significant addition to the appeal of Montezuma County. While a convention center could attract mid- and large-sized group events which otherwise would go elsewhere, and thus adding to the local economy, the multi-use rooms which are part of a convention center are always needed by local groups as well.
Places to meet are critical for strong social, economic and political memberships, which every community ought to have.
But while the Montezuma commissioners have said they’ll build it, or come close to building it, they were immediately clear that any shortfall in the center’s operations will have to be picked up by the city. That is the shared undertaking.
And as soon as the subject of a convention center came up, there were those who said that it should be closer to Cortez, in fact in Cortez, in the former and long-empty Walmart building on the city’s east side. There, motels are just across Main Street, with food, coffee and convenience stores along Main deeper into Cortez. Walking into downtown Cortez might not be possible, but the drive would be much shorter than from the fairgrounds. (Should the empty Calkins school building be on the possible list? Retrofitting it might be very expensive, but its location means its use would add significantly to the vibrancy of Cortez’s center.)
But before concrete is poured and framing begins, wherever the center is located, there has to be a very good study completed of the possibilities – and the challenges, and possibly impossibilities – of a convention center in Cortez. And perhaps a second study to catch anything the first study missed and to add to the all-important perspectives and conclusions. And, it would be critical to have contact with perhaps a half dozen roughly comparable communities in the country with their own convention centers. How are they doing? A convention center with all of its parts and costs is not an example of “build it and they will come.”
Too many communities have under-utilized centers which have to be supported, sometimes heavily, by unrelated public revenues which could be used elsewhere.
Durango has talked about a convention center, one that would be used for community events as well, and perhaps the arts, for years. But there are the costs – a new tax, or new taxes, would be mandatory, as La Plata County’s commissioners have not offered to build it. Location and thus land costs have been an obstacle, as close-in river valley locations are few or none. And, there is access. Do too few airline seats into Durango, and they are expensive seats, mean that the conventions which would boost the economy would have to be drive-to events? If potential attendees are reluctant to drive more than six or eight hours, some – or many – events would be very limited in size or probably not take place at all. Consultants can comment on that.
Horse owners in La Plata County are looking forward to competition horse facilities on Ewing Mesa where Durango Mesa Park is in the planning stages. Horse owners who travel to compete say that horse facilities here would be a popular draw.
But back to Montezuma County, where land would be much less expensive than in or near Durango. But Montezuma County would still have the issue of its center’s proximity to population centers.
While consultants are not always popular – we know the issues and our market, it is easy to say – they are critical for an undertaking such as a convention center. And when they come back with a glowing endorsement, as they often do, discount that by 25 percent and aggressively challenge their assumptions. Whether it is a convention center in Cortez, or in Durango, or both, everyone – political leadership, community members and taxpayers – wants it to be successful.