The Colorado Convention Center's economic impact reverberates throughout the city, the state, the country and the world.
“For 25 years, the Colorado Convention Center has been Denver’s tourism hub and has proven to be a stunning economic catalyst for downtown and beyond,” says Navin C. Dimond, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies.
It's more than a building – for many executives and experts, it is Denver's front door and a gateway to Colorado.
“The convention center expansion has led to the growth of hotels, restaurants and businesses in the evolving convention center district in Denver. Doubling the size of the convention center was a key decision that has made 14th Street into a vibrant experience for convention attendees,” says Gary Schirmacher, senior vice president of association sales and marketing at Experient, a global meeting planning and event management company. “When the convention center was built 25 years ago, it was difficult to have one show going on while another was setting up or tearing down. That’s all changed now.”
"For Cherry Creek, the Colorado Convention Center has been instrumental in helping the shopping center achieve much of its success. A considerable amount of our sales volume can be directly attributed to convention attendees who find time to make their way to the shopping center to enjoy all it has to offer."
Cherry Creek Shopping Center
The impact starts literally next door. “It's invaluable,” says Dawn Williams, director of event services for the adjacent Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA). “I don't think our present event business would be what it is without the convention center.”
Williams says DCPA books four to six big breakout events from the convention center every year. “Being the neighbor, we're able to host welcome receptions or awards dinners. We have a lot of fun with them.”
Ed Bucholtz, general manager of Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, says his hotel is joined at the hip with the convention center – about half of his business is tied to it – and that's a very good thing.
“It's one of the most occupied centers in the United States,” says Bucholtz. “We constantly get first-time groups who come here and set some kind of attendance record.”
Denver's revenue per available room (RevPAR), a bellwether measurement for a hotel’s success, has outpaced most other major cities since the convention center opened. “Our spike was in 2008 with the Democratic National Convention,” says Bucholtz. The ensuing recession took a bite out of business, but Denver weathered the storm better than most cities, he adds. “Last year was better than 2008, which was the high water mark.”
Sage Hospitality operates eight downtown hotels. “The Colorado Convention Center is the reason Denver ranks as an emerging tier one convention city,” says president and CEO Walter Isenberg. “The demand for rooms continues to increase and in response, Denver continues to add hotels. It doesn’t show signs of stopping.”
Isenberg says it's time for another expansion. “Expansion at the CCC would support more hotel development to provide the guestrooms needed to accommodate multiple conventions at one time.”
Retailers and restaurants at Larimer Square and Union Station also enjoy a nice uptick when big events roll into town. “We feel it directly on a daily basis,” says Larimer Associates COO Joe Vostrejs. “When there's a big group in town, we feel it immediately. We literally have to plan and staff all of our businesses around big events at the convention center.”
“We have one of the most vibrant downtowns in the United States, and the convention center is a big part of that. It fills hotel rooms and that provides a constant stream of visitors to our city,” Vostrejs adds. “Without this huge influx, there's no way we'd have the diversity of dining, entertainment, and retail in the heart of the city.”
Jennifer Jasinski, chef and co-owner of Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendôme at Larimer Square and Stoic & Genuine at Union Station, says her eateries see immediate bumps in business when conventions are in town. “The convention center has a very big impact on my restaurants,” she says. “Being nearby is a big plus for us.”
“A future expansion would allow our hotels to book more convention business, competing with tier one cities such as Chicago, Boston and Las Vegas.”
Walter Isenberg, Sage Hospitality
Denver's Presidential Worldwide Transportation is another example of a local business that has benefited from business generated by convention attendees. The limousine provider has been in business for 30 years and has more than 40 vehicles and about 70 employees.
“Last year was our best year ever,” says President and CEO Shane Stickel. The Colorado Convention Center “has been a huge thing for us. There's basically no event there we're not touching.”
“As the convention center has grown, we've seen growth in all parts of our business,” he adds. “That directly translates to business for us, and it also gives us exposure. It opens up Denver to international activity, as well as repeat business for people who come back for leisure.”
Robert Venus is the general manager at Freeman Expositions, Inc., an event planning and convention logistics company. He says the convention center has played a crucial part in the success of his business. “The success of the center has contributed to our financial and business growth and has provided a strong foundation for future success.”
The impact isn’t limited to downtown. Whenever a paleontological group meets at the convention center, they almost always book the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for an after-hours shindig, says President and CEO George Sparks. “Some medical groups also come and spend an evening with us,” he adds.
The museum annually hosts several such parties with hundreds of attendees, and usually has one with 1,000 or more guests every year.
But it also primes the pump for leisure visitors year-round. “Many people who come back to visit Denver come first as a conventioneer,” says Sparks. “The convention center is fundamental to Denver being a tourism destination. It's part of the perception of Denver evolving from a cow town to a 21st century, growing Western city.”
Mark Sidell, president of Denver Pavilions’ owner Gart Properties, echoes that sentiment. “The convention center has had an immeasurable impact on downtown” he says, arguing that the convention center makes the 16th Street Mall the most-visited attraction in the city. “It puts more people on the Mall. We get a big piece of that.”
Restaurants at the Pavilions, just three blocks from the convention center, get plenty of buyouts during big conventions, and retailers immediately see a bump when a convention hits town. “The Colorado Convention Center has consistently delivered fresh wallets, every week,” says Sidell.
Another benefit, says Sidell, is that retailers will look more closely at downtown Denver. “We've been able to use the business the convention center gets to recruit first-to-market international retailers to the Denver Pavilions.” He points to H&M and the recently announced Colorado debut of Japanese clothing retailer, Uniqlo. “We were able to tell the story of how the convention center can help grow your brand nationally.”
John Adams, general manager of the Colorado Convention Center, recognizes the vital role the center plays in the greater Denver economy. “We are not only a major economic generator to the metro Denver area – we are also a family with over 600 full- and part-time staff.”