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Convention Center Needs a Face Lift, Survey Finds : Tourism: Study says Anaheim complex must expand dramatically or fall behind its competitors.


ANAHEIM — The city's convention center needs a major expansion and face lift to remain competitive in the tourism industry, according to an analysis by one of the nation's top accounting firms.

The study by Coopers & Lybrand recommends that the facility, which has five exhibit halls and a 9,000-seat arena, increase its exhibit space by 100,000 square feet and meeting space by 58,800 to 98,800 square feet. It also suggests that the city add a 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot ballroom to the building.

The analysis also said the $35 million in yearly tax revenue that the Convention Center generates would increase to $42.3 million after improvement. With no expansion, tax revenue would drop to $26.7 million, according to the study.

The center, across from Disneyland, is already one of the largest facilities of its kind in the nation and is considered a crucial element in the city's efforts to revitalize its tourist areas.

The study was presented to the city's Budget Advisory Commission on Wednesday and states that Anaheim is not keeping up with improvements made to convention centers in cities such as Chicago, Dallas, San Diego and Atlanta.

"This study pinpoints what business we stand to lose or gain depending on what types of improvements we make at the Convention Center," said Mayor Tom Daly.

City officials have discussed expanding the Convention Center for about a year and hired the accounting firm in February to study the financial feasibility.

Of the 20 largest convention and trade show facilities in the United States, five have either expanded or are doing so. Another six, including Anaheim, are considering expansion, according to the report.

"We are in an era where competition is becoming more intense and clientele are expecting more from facilities," City Manager James D. Ruth said Wednesday. "This analysis confirms that in order to retain our meeting and convention market share, we will have to make enhancements in the Convention Center."

Coopers & Lybrand's Craig Skiem said attendance at trade shows in Anaheim has gone down slightly since 1992.

Skiem said the study revealed there are two main reasons that potential convention customers did not want to consider Anaheim: geographic preference and lack of nearby visitor amenities, such as restaurants.

"What you find they like to do is eat," Skiem said of convention and trade show visitors.

Ruth said the next step is to determine how much the improvements will cost and how the city would pay for them. At least part of the money will come from a recent increase of 2 percentage points in the city's hotel bed tax, which is now 15%.

Daly said that with the Walt Disney Co. planning some kind of expansion of Disneyland, a face lift for the 28-year-old Convention Center is especially timely.

"Now is the time to move forward," Daly said. "We need to make sure that there is maximum benefit for this facility."

Coopers & Lybrand was paid approximately $90,000 for four months of work. The findings will be presented to the City Council at a special workshop Tuesday.

The Convention Center has undergone four previous expansions, in 1974, 1982, 1990 and 1993. The original building was 400,000 square feet and cost $6.1 million to construct.

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