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Convention hotel could be in Victoria's future

By ALLISON MILES
Sept. 24, 2010 at 4:24 a.m.
Updated Sept. 25, 2010 at 4:25 a.m.


WHAT IS A CONVENTION HOTEL?It's a hotel owned by a private entity that boasts hundreds of rooms and includes space for meetings, conventions, presentations and more. Dining, shopping and entertainment options typically are nearby.

Source: Bridgette Bise, executive director of the Victoria Convention and Visitors Bureau

Victoria's lodging industry Number of hotels: 38

Rooms: 2,000

Room nights sold: 96,000

Occupancy rate: 53.2%

Revenue: $7,053,000

*Data relates to 2010's second quarter.

Source: Texas governor's website

The Victoria metropolitan statistical area currently plays home to 38 hotels, but plans are in the works to introduce another to the mix.

And it will be big.

Entities hope to bring a full-fledged convention hotel to Victoria within the next five years.

The site would provide an economic boost to the region, said Bridgette Bise, executive director of the Victoria Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It would provide a site for companies to host conventions and meetings, she said, drawing tourists to the Crossroads who could also take advantage of shopping, restaurants and other activities.

"Tourism is economic development," Bise said. "It's the second largest industry in the state of Texas. Being two hours away from 15 million people puts us in the perfect vicinity."

A convention hotel would offer several hundred direct jobs, as well as indirect jobs in areas such as food and cleaning services. When calculating in the multiplier effect, she said it would contribute millions to the local economy.

The project's timing has introduced some issues, said Randy Vivian, president and CEO of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Right when the chamber began the search, the economy turned south.

"Commercial lending is still struggling," Vivian said. "The economy now is what's holding a lot of development back."

But the organization has spoken with companies that do convention hotels, he said, and plans are still in the works.

"We're on their radar," Vivian said. "The time just has to be right."

The ideal Victoria site would boast a minimum of 500 rooms and between 20,000 and 40,000 square feet of convention space, Bise said.

Today's meeting planners look for hotels with everything in one location, including close proximity to dining and shopping, she said, so that would play a role in determining its location.

"We've had lots of conferences I've tried to bid on since I've been here but we haven't won them because the community center is 15 minutes from the hotel properties they want to use," Bise said.

Victoria's lack of a full-service hotel, as well as difficulty in finding availability at the Victoria Community Center, is also an issue.

Although she had several hoteliers in mind for the project, Bise declined comment regarding specific companies because she had not yet spoken to the groups.

Victoria is growing and the added lodging space would benefit the community, said Keith Totah, general manager for America's Best Value Inn and Suites in Victoria.

A convention hotel might hurt current hotels, simply because of added competition, he said, but Victoria's lodging industry is strong at the moment.

"And, being that the Caterpillar plant is coming into town, that's probably going to help things, also," he said. "Things are good. Hopefully it'll stay like that."

It's too early to say whether such a project would be feasible in the Crossroads, said Raj Bhakta, general manager for Lone Star Inn & Suites in Victoria.

Weekends are slow for mid-sized properties in Victoria's hotel industry, he said, and he wondered whether Victoria would host any major conventions in the near future.

Most convention hotels are situated in places where people can venture out and take part in other activities, he said.

"Victoria is a blue collar town," he said. "I don't think it would be a good idea, but that's just my opinion."

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