New hotel, convention center possible for Columbia

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COLUMBIA - For a few decades, the possibility of Columbia getting a new convention center has been at the top of discussions at the University of Missouri.

However, the idea is starting to become a reality.

In the fall of 2014, the university hired PKF Consulting to determine if a new hotel and conference center should be built near campus.

The firm surveyed MU faculty and staff, alumni, hotel operators and others and concluded that the economy would benefit from a 200-bed hotel with a 30,000-square-foot convention center. Six potential sites were were studied with a location on Stadium Boulevard and College Avenue being the top choice. 

Hotel owners said a large conference center is needed, but said the hotel shouldn't be too large as to take away business from other hotels in the area. 

The proposed plan for a convention center includes an 18,000-square-foot grand ballroom that seats up to 1,200 people, 6,000-square-foot junior ballroom and 6,000-square-feet of meeting rooms.

The study found that many current events that already take place in Columbia would consider relocating. It also found 915 events that could be attracted to Columbia with a new convention center, 37 of which exceed 1,000 attendees. 

"The university hosts hundreds of events every year that bring many people to Columbia," MU spokesperson Christian Basi said. "This would allow us to expand those events to a greater number of people."

Megan McConachie, marketing and communications manager of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the idea is to bring in larger regional conventions that currently can't fit in Columbia.

"If there's a group and right now they have their state convention here every year, but there is a potential to maybe have their Midwest convention here, and so that's something this convention center could accommodate," McConachie said.

Taking into account annual occupancy, the study estimated that the hotel and conference center would have an income between $2.5 million and $3.75 million between the years 2018 and 2022. 

Currently, the only convention center in the Columbia area is Holiday Inn Executive Center by the Columbia Mall. 

There is no timetable for the initiation of the project, but based of the recent findings, McConachie said she thinks things may move quickly.

"Just based on what the information was they released, I think they're pretty active in hoping this will move forward," she said.

The university said it has no plans of building, operating or funding the facility, so an outside funding source is necessary for the process to begin. 

The study recommended the Embassy Suites, Marriott and Sheraton as possible brands for the hotel.