November 8, 2018

Hartford convention center's future re-examined

HBJ File Photo
HBJ File Photo
The Connecticut Convention Center.
CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth.

The quasi-public overseer of the Connecticut Convention Center is looking to hire an adviser who can help it examine and recast future marketing opportunities for the 13-year-old meetings-events facility in downtown Hartford.

The Capital Region Development Authority oversees the 540,000-square-foot facility and adjoining Hartford Marriott Downtown hotel at 100 Columbus Blvd., overlooking the Connecticut River and anchoring downtown's Front Street entertainment district. It opened in 2005.

A request for qualifications (RFQs) was available and relayed Monday to potential consultants-advisers, who have until Nov. 12 to submit their RFPs to CRDA. At least three previous marketing and feasibility studies have examined the convention center, CRDA says.

In addition to its mission promoting redevelopment of downtown Hartford and its select suburban neighbors, CRDA also oversees the XL Center sports-events arena in downtown Hartford; Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field; and the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said the staff and board of directors regularly evaluate the convention center's operating and bookings prospects. But ongoing shifts, he said, in the type and nature of events finally prompted CRDA to take a big-picture look into the convention center's future.

"Springfield, Mohegan's new convention center and the simple fact that the first convention center projections date back to 1998, led us to asking larger and more complex questions, resulting in the RFQ,'' Freimuth said via email Thursday.

CRDA's adviser callout also comes just as the annual Connecticut International Auto Show, a longtime annual exhibitor at the convention center, convenes its three-day exhibition, beginning Friday at the Mohegan Sun Expo Center.

Chris Russell, spokesman for the show owned by the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association (CATA), said showgoers influenced CATA's decision to relocate its auto expo to Uncasville section of Montville.

"Based on past survey results,'' Russell said in an email Thursday, "attendees expressed wanting more from their Auto Show experience, like varied, quality dining options and free parking with more security."

Over the years, Hartford has faced increased competition in attracting conventions and entertainment performances. MGM's new $960 million Springfield casino is also expected to cause further headaches.

"This study will help us chart the next phase of our future,'' the RFP states. "We need to know where we are in our life cycle, if we are competitive and if not how we become more competitive, how successful we are relative to others, and what our future will look like."

According to CRDA's convention-center RFP, the winning adviser will have access to all of the facility's historical records for revenues, event and room bookings, and attendance. Also available will be the convention center's current fiscal 2019 budget, projections and booking pace through fiscal 2023.

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