Consultant hired to analyze expanding convention center

A Chicago consulting firm has been hired to do a market analysis on expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center and adding a convention center hotel nearby.

C.H. Johnson of Chicago is to spend two months assessing needs of the existing convention center, with a report due in late March.

Charlie Johnson told members of the Kennewick Public Facilities District on Thursday that his staff will interview staff and community members to gather information before making recommendations.

Dean Strawn, board president, and Corey Pearson, executive director of the center and the Toyota Center, told the Kennewick City Council on Tuesday that the consultant's work would help the PFD board make decisions about the hotel and on adding an exhibit hall to the center.

Not having those facilities has become an issue, Strawn said.

"After nearly seven years, we know what our capabilities are, and we know we've had to turn down opportunities because of it," Strawn said.

The board went to C.H. Johnson seven years ago for an opinion about hiring a management company to run the center instead of the PFD board.

Now they want the consultant to tell them where to build a hotel, what kind and size it should be and what services it should have. The consultant also is to advise the PFD about the exhibit hall's size and site on the convention center campus.

Strawn told the city council Tuesday his board believed it was best that the consultant look at the big picture by considering both projects.

"The hotel and exhibit hall will have to support each other," he said, adding that the board believes it unwise to pursue the projects separately.

"We want you to tell us what you think, not what we have in mind," Strawn told Johnson on Thursday.

"I agree. I want an honest and true feasibility study, not something preconceived by us," said board member Calvin Dudney.

Johnson said convention centers like the one in Kennewick have been doing well across the country, especially in serving conventions and trade shows.

"Buildings like this are doing well through this recession," Johnson said.

And the hotel industry is starting to show optimism, particularly with the convention and meetings business, he added.

Once the study is completed, the PFD board intends to prepare a request for proposals targeting hotel developers, Strawn said.