City leaders discuss possibility of new convention center - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City leaders discuss possibility of new convention center

(WMC-TV) - An old question is surfacing again downtown: Should Memphis build a new convention center with a large hotel? Some city leaders say without a new convention center, Memphis will not be able to compete with other cities like Nashville and St. Louis.

Conventions are considered a $2 billion industry. Tens of millions of tourist dollars are at stake each year, but can the Bluff City afford such a large scale project? And if so, how?

Kevin Kane, head of the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, addressed Memphis City Council, saying without a new convention center and hotel, Memphis' convention dollars will dry up.

"We are one of America's top cities for tourism, but if we don't take the steps to make that happen, then we're just making statements without making any backbone or back up to it," said Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins, who is pushing for a committee to study the idea.

Other council members and some taxpayers say they do not see how Memphis could possibly afford to build a new convention center.

"Just in general, I think we need to get our finances in order," said Joe Saino, Memphis taxpayer watchdog.

Saino says the city needs to reform the retirement system and address its debt before it can take on a project like this, but he is open to a studying the idea.

"Would have to be studied by an independent body that we can believe with the projections of how it's going to be paid for," he added.

Councilman Collins insists the dialogue needs to happen now.

"Let's talk about it," said Collins. "Let's have a discussion. Let's figure out what we can do after we do that. Let's make an informed decision on what we can do with the information we have."

Collins is looking at the first meeting next month to bring up this issue again. He would like to assign a committee to study a new convention center and hotel, where it would go, and how the city could pay for it.

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