Following up on an idea that’s been considered for more than three years, City Council members directed staff to seek out potential private-public partnerships for conference and convention center opportunities in Santa Clarita.
City Council members approved the move 4-1, which City Councilwoman Marsha McLean likened to making sure city officials were keeping their options open.
“We’re not obligating ourselves to anything but information,” McLean said, after nearly 40 minutes of discussion.
City Councilman Frank Ferry considered the move the responsible thing to do, saying the city had to keep its options open and look toward its eventual growth, while Councilman TimBen Boydston criticized the idea as fiscally unfeasible.
“When I look at the long-term vision for our community, and when I look at long-term possibilities with management and we have a staff recommendation that says, ‘Give us an opportunity,’ we have a responsibility to do that,” Ferry said. “Let’s receive the report and give us the ability to look long term.”
He likened to idea to when the city was looking at constructing a performing arts center, and wound up with a partnership with College of the Canyons, which has turned out to be “an amazing partnership” for $2 million.
Last year, Kosmont Co., with help from PKF Consulting, were contracted to vet what a conference center in Santa Clarita might look like and the most likely configurations, based on the city’s size and amenities.
There were a number of factors that could greatly vary the cost of such a facility, which could range anywhere from $40 million to $65 million, based on comparable plans, said Wil Soholt of Kosmont.
Here is a copy of the conference center master plan for Santa Clarita.
Boydston thoroughly questioned the Kosmont representative, bringing up the fact that, if relying on sales tax alone, and the fact that interest rates will eventually rise, a 7 percent rate on a $55 million center would cost the city about $5 million per year.
The city only receives 1 percent of sales tax revenue, so in order to recoup that expense, the center would need to generate about a half-billion dollars in receipts.
Sales tax revenue is the city’s main source of revenue.
“I just want everyone to understand how little sense this makes to build a conference center when you’re trying to subsidize it,” Boydston said, likening the plan to “corporate welfare.”
However, there are other factors at play, officials said. Patrick Miller, of Saugus, a former hotel and convention center sales manager for the Santa Clarita Valley and Los Angeles areas, spoke about how hotels would greatly benefit from the added revenue, and that city officials should not just think conference center, they should think convention center.
The presentation discussed individual factors that would drive the success of such a facility, like meeting-room size and proximate hotel room capacity, as well as arbitrary elements such as the area’s appeal and nearby attractions, Soholt said.
In October 2009, City Council members commissioned a feasibility study, citing local demand for a conference/convention center, said city Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford.
Several locations are being looked at for the conference center, including the Valencia Town Center area near Interstate 5, and farther north, near the I-5/ Highway 126 interchange.
The size of a facility is driven heavily by the size of the main meeting rooms, according to the report presented at City Hall. The recommended size of a conference center would include a 55,000 square foot facility anchored by a 20,000 square foot main ballroom, which would accommodate approximately 1,481 people in a typical banquet configuration.
Soholt said the company was not there to advocate for a conference or a convention center, merely to present the most feasible options; however, Soholt said based on the numbers, a private management structure was the recommended course of action if the city did want to pursue a center.