Centre of attention

Centre of attention

St. John’s hopes a new convention attracts new clientele (and visitors) to The Rock

CITY COUNCILOR Sandy Hickman thinks the opening of the new St. John’s Convention Centre puts the municipality back in the conference-hosting big leagues.

“We will get our share,” says Hickman. “We may even get more than our share.”

Getting a share, or as Hickman hopes, more than its share of the convention and meetings market is a big reason why the City went ahead with the $70-million project. The layout and size of the city’s old convention centre limited the size of events that St. John’s could host. It also put it at a competitive disadvantage against other Atlantic Canadian. “If we hadn’t done this, places like Fredericton, Halifax, Moncton and Charlottetown would all have better facilities than us,” Hickman says.

Better facilities give cities a better chance of hosting conferences and conventions. In a 2009 report commissioned by Destination St. John’s examining the business case for expanding the city’s convention centre, potential users cited the size of the old centre’s ballroom (67 per cent), lack of exhibition space (83 per cent) and lack of adequate breakout space (83 per cent) as reasons for not hosting events in St. John’s in the past.

The new convention centre should change those perceptions. It can host conventions of 600-800 people compared to 400-600 in the old centre. The new facility also has 46,000 square feet of space, as well as 10 meetings rooms (the previous facility had two), two ballrooms and a kitchen capable of serving 1,300 hot meals in 15 minutes.

The extra space could pay big dividends for the city and the entire province. Destination St. John’s has said the conventions and meetings market has an annual impact of $50 million on the local economy and more than 50 per cent of delegates’ vacation in Newfoundland and Labrador pre- or post-convention.

Now that the city can host bigger conferences, Hickman, who served as city council’s liaison on the Convention Centre Project Committee, is confident that economic impact will increase. “Conventions are an excuse to come to St. John’s and the province,” Hickman says. “That’s why it’s critical for us to have this. It’s going to be an economic driver. There is no question about it.”

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