The Cook Convention Center may get a complete overhaul and a brand new addition in a $50 million project designed to up the city’s game in attracting conventions.
The plan was revealed Thursday, hidden away in the legal language in two proposed ordinances
that would raise new funds for the project. Those ordinances are slated to be heard by the Memphis City Council on Tuesday.
Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Conventions and Visitors Bureau, said if the new fees and taxes are approved, the project would unfold in two phases.
Phase one, he said, would modernize the existing facility, to “bring it up to 21st century standards.” The convention center would get a whole new look on the outside with new lighting and more. Inside, the center would be remodeled with new finishes, new bathrooms and more.
“It is still going to have low ceilings and columns and only one loading dock,” Kane said. “So, it will still have its challenges. But the only way to correct that is to blow the thing up and start over.”
That’s what the project’s second phase should do, Kane said.
That phase will add an addition to the current center that will be “just as impressive as what you see in Nashville," Kane said referring to the massive Music City Center building that opened in 2013. Kane said the city simply needs something “bigger, more, newer.”
He said the city does well with international travelers, corporate travelers, and others but “the market segment we’re lacking and suffering in and seeing and erosion in is with the national associations and big-time conventions and trade shows.”
“When people come through (the Cook Convention Center) they look around and say, with all due respect, we can go to Jackson, Mississippi (for a higher quality building) than we can get in Memphis, Tennessee,” he said. “We’re talking Jackson, Mississippi here!”
The first step toward this plan is the passage of those two new proposals that would add a $2 per night room fee and a higher tax on hotel room stays.