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Fort Worth Looking To Expand, Build Convention & Visitor Spaces

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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – Nearly a million people attend events in and around the Fort Worth Convention Center every year. Now, event planners say they’re running out of room for them all.

While that’s good news for the city’s economy, it presents problems if the city wants to compete against neighboring cities for large conventions.

The appeal of south downtown Fort Worth to business owners is the flood of people the convention center and surrounding hotels bring.

“This past weekend they had 10,000 people here for the Republican… State Convention and it was just a mad house out here on the street when they broke for lunch,” said Jay Thompson who opened his bar, The Brass Tap, near the convention center in April.

The problem around the Fort Worth Convention Center isn’t too few people — it’s too many. Take the old end of the convention center. It was built in 1968 and was state-of-the-art back then. But now its corridors appear cramped and its design, even the use of bland tile on the floor, is dated. Event planners say the arena space isn’t flexible enough to hold different types of events.

The old arena is a stark contrast to the other two-thirds of the convention center, which was rebuilt with cavernous walking and display spaces. And, even though the relatively new Omni Hotel is right next-door, hotel space downtown is at a premium.

Mayor Betsy Price admitted, “The demand is for bigger conventions that we just don’t have the hotel space or the convention center space to handle it.”

The Fort Worth Council will soon see plans for a new, modern arena where the old one stands. There would be a plaza built around it and a new hotel. There could also be incentives for the Omni to expand. But there are questions — like how much would the city pay — if anything — to build a new hotel?

“Obviously, looking at whether we get in the hotel business, which nobody has committed to at all,” said Mayor Price about what issues the council will want addressed. “How do we get an adequate convention center hotel here? What will it take and what will be the appetite to build it?”

And there’s the question of whether new construction would choke off the foot traffic that keeps neighboring business thriving?

“A new hotel would probably be ideal,” Thompson said. “The down time between when the old convention center down is knocked down and the new one is built could be detrimental to the folks down here.”

The Fort Worth City Council begins studying the issues surrounding convention center expansion and a new hotel in July.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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