Let’s reconsider building a convention center

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Downtown Colorado Springs has plenty going for it but it’s missing a key ingredient — a convention center.

The idea of building a convention center generated so much controversy a few years ago that voters approved a measure barring city officials from even discussing plans for one.

But the need for a center might be greater now than ever, and so we think it’s time to reconsider the idea.

The notion drew controversy because preliminary plans called for using and maybe increasing lodging tax to fund construction, and, well, everyone knows any tax talk is taboo in these parts.

It also became contentious because folks at The Broadmoor, the biggest contributor to the lodging tax revenue, didn’t like the idea of “paying” for a competing venue.

Here are a few points to consider that make the case for a convention center:

The Phil Long Expo center just announced that it would close its doors to become a church by the end of the year.

Since opening in 2002, the venue has played host to the area’s largest indoor conventions, expositions and trade shows, including the HBA’s annual home and garden show, which draws about 6,000 people, and the annual Chamber of Commerce Business Expo, where 250 businesses showed off their wares and made connections.

Now those organizations, along with dozens of others that used the Phil Long center, are looking for space elsewhere. They’re considering vacant big-box retail shells on the outskirts of town.

The Denver convention and visitor’s bureau recently announced that the city has a record number of nine conventions planned during the fourth quarter, a historically slow time in the convention business. Those meetings are expected to bring 66,100 visitors to the city and generate $141 million in spending.

You have to wonder whether any of those organizations would have looked to the Springs if we only had more suitable meeting space.

One more thing a convention center would bring is a chance to revitalize downtown’s blighted southwest quadrant, where vacant warehouses sit across from railroad tracks and homeless encampments.

Convention centers bring with them hotels, restaurants and traffic — all things our downtown could use.

The new 403-room Embassy Suites hotel across the street from the newly renovated Denver Convention Center is scheduled to open next month. It announced this week it has 200 jobs to fill.

It’s no secret that downtown Colorado Springs needs a boost. A convention center might be our ticket. Let’s rethink the idea.