Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Positively Cleveland president: "We have an important role to play"

I talked to Positively Cleveland’s president, Dennis Roche, today about the news that the county may cut his organization’s funding to help fund the Medical Mart project. He made a strong case for preserving what Cleveland’s convention and visitor’s bureau does for the city.

“We have an important role to play, both with the new convention center project and the existing business already in place,” Roche says.

“Last year, we sold about 200,000 [hotel] room nights. About 160,000 of those were non-convention business. … You hear, in the early years, the convention will add 200,000 room nights. But we were already doing that without a convention center. The trick is going to be doing that while preserving the business that is there.”

MMPI vice-president Mark Falanga told me Friday that he believes hotel tax money will be a second source of revenue to pay for the Medical Mart. That likely means budget cuts for Positively Cleveland, which gets $5.5 million a year from the county hotel tax. County commissioner Peter Lawson Jones told me yesterday that the county will probably tap the hotel tax for the Med Mart, and that Positively Cleveland will likely have a reduced role and budget after the project starts, because MMPI will take the lead in booking the new convention center.

But Roche points out that most of Positively Cleveland’s budget goes to promoting tourism and non-convention meetings. “If you let the tourism and meeting trade atrophy and build the convention trade, you really are not gaining a lot as a community.”

Positively Cleveland used to book a lot of conventions, Roche says: Union meetings, government meetings, and large shows related to manufacturing. Industrial groups, he says, like to book conventions in their market — which includes Cleveland. But most of them have stopped booking in Cleveland over the last 10 years, choosing new centers in other cities instead. The problem is our antiquated 1920s convention center, with its low ceilings, many columns, and difficult truck access, he says.

Once we have a new convention center, Roche wants to win back the business Cleveland has lost. “We have relationships with trade organizations,” Roche says. “[We can] refer back to the times when they did have us in their rotation. I don’t think those things tend to be on MMPI’s natural radar. MMPI has made it very clear their focus is medical meetings. We want to supplement that.”

After the conversations I’ve had in the last few days with Roche, Jones, Falanga, and Fred Nance, I see two points about the Med Mart deal that have gotten little attention:

As MMPI focuses on making the Medical Mart work, Clevelanders will need to keep asking what non-medical business the convention center can attract.

Also, although the county commissioners plan to sign the Medical Mart and convention center deal this Thursday, they haven’t decided if they’ll use the hotel tax as a second source of funding for the project — and it hasn’t figured out what effect that would have on our convention and visitor’s bureau.

Update, 4/22: Mayor Frank Jackson is defending Positively Cleveland in negotiations with the county, and insisting on using the new convention center for non-medical conventions.  See my new post.


Erick Trickey said...

[This comment comes from Roldo Bartimole, who had trouble posting:]Of course Roche will fight like hell for the bed tax revenue. He gets $302,365 in annual salary (2007) and $32,556 in benefits. These figures come from its IRS 990 tax return, a public document.

The untold story of Positively Cleveland (Convention and Visitors Bureau) is how very, very little its members who benefit from this business pay. In 2007, members only contributed $495,820 while the taxpayers pumped $8 million into this outfit.


MrKeith said...

I'm not sure why Roldo feels slighted when a civic entity such as a city's convention and visitors bureau is funded by taxpayers. It seems to me that the correct response to the news that members have put nearly $500,000 into our convention and visitors bureau would be thank you.