• A convention center for Medford?

    So many questions remain about building a potential tourist magnet that you could fill a ... well, you know ... with them
  • The possibility of a statewide tourism conference coming to the Rogue Valley both excites and deflates those charged with bringing visitors here.
    • email print
  • The possibility of a statewide tourism conference coming to the Rogue Valley both excites and deflates those charged with bringing visitors here.
    The annual Oregon Governor's Conference on Tourism attracts more than 400 delegates, who have gathered in venues ranging from Bend to Eugene, Seaside to Portland. It was held in Salem in April and is ticketed for Sunriver in 2014.
    The idea of hosting the event has been broached more than once, and as much as they would love the invasion, local visitor and convention bureau folks can only ruefully shake their heads.
    For the fact is, there are no locations where groups of that size can meet and eat under the same roof, said Anne Jenkins, senior vice president of Travel Medford, the visitor and convention arm of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.
    During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, there were 15,000 visitors in the Medford area, attending conferences, conventions and events, generating 18,000 overnight room stays, according to Travel Medford figures.
    A big chunk of that comes from athletics-related events, but the number could climb substantially if there were a larger site to book conventions.
    "Medford is outgrowing the 10,000 square feet we have available at the Red Lion or Ramada," said Jenkins, who has been involved in visitor and convention operations here for 15 years. Jenkins said the largest indoor convention the city can accommodate would be one with about 300 people.
    The Great Recession slowed convention trade, but with the economy improving and organizations routinely convening across the state and country, a convention center, with adjoining hotel and food service, is back in the conversation in Medford.
    "We have the requests, but you can't hold the size of meetings that would like to come to our city," Jenkins said. "We go after conventions we can hold and, on average, we turn down one or two a month from people who have sent (proposal requests)."
    While Jenkins knows what a 30,000-square-foot convention center, with an exhibit hall and meeting rooms, might look like, at this point any likely locations are unknown, as is the potential cost. The location probably would surface after a recommendation by a consultant, she said, while the cost probably would be determined by a hotel and food service company.
    Medford and its adjacent urban area have three times the population of the late 1960s, when today's primary convention centers opened. Former mayor, state legislator and present City Councilor Al Densmore recalls the great leap forward when two hotels with convention centers opened in 1968. Before that, there was the Medford Armory and attendees were shuttled to and from their motels.
    Medford had just over 30,000 residents but benefitted greatly when the downtown Red Lion Hotel and Holiday Inn (now the Ramada Inn) opened. Holiday Inn's 10,000-square-foot convention center was far from downtown, but close to the airport and the north freeway exit.
    "It was a fairly big deal at the time," Densmore said. "It was the first fairly good-sized lodging facility with fairly good-sized meeting rooms. Without that, we had to depend on multiple venues to attract larger groups or statewide organizations. But as the rest of the landscape has grown, it now looks fairly small."
    Convention centers have sprung up at a rapid pace nationally during the past two decades. Despite the recession, an industry source reported that since 2005, 44 new convention spaces were either constructed or planned.
    Salem opened a $32.8 million, 30,000-square-foot convention center in 2005. A $42 million, 130,000-square-foot center opened in Provo, Utah, last year.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar