As the former convention sales manager and now president and CEO of Travel Juneau, it’s been my privilege to market Juneau and Centennial Hall to meeting planners from across the state and the Lower 48.
Juneau has hosted statewide, regional, national and international meetings, including the National Association of Social Workers, Association of School Business Officials and most recently, the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. Over the last several years, residents, meeting planners and TJ staff have noted the wear and tear on Centennial Hall, and after 35 years, it needs major renovations. The 2018-19 DestinationNEXT process showed that residents and city leaders feel that the facility needs upgrades and a makeover. As the capital city, Juneau deserves better for its residents and the meetings industry. This Oct. 1, Juneau residents will have an opportunity to approve Proposition 2, providing $7 million in general obligation bonds toward these much-needed improvements.
Centennial Hall is the largest meeting facility outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Anyone who has attended or planned an event at the hall in the last few years has experienced the consequences of failing and obsolete systems: the general lighting is inadequate; the HVAC system is well past its useful life; the sound system is inadequate for even the most basic of functions – there’s not workable PA system for events like Public Market. Attendees and participants at Folk Festival, Wearable Arts and Celebration know that A/V and lighting technicians must be hired and most times, special equipment must be brought in so that the event can take place. Wi-Fi is inadequate for meetings that depend upon internet access and meeting apps. Even the moveable walls that separate the three ballrooms are barely functioning and will soon fail. This simply isn’t the case in competitive facilities.
Let me be clear: convention centers are economic generators and Centennial Hall has been no exception. However, planners have new, more efficient and better-equipped facilities in which to hold meetings, conventions and events of all kinds, putting Juneau in competition with communities such as Sitka, Cordova and Valdez. With travel freezes in place over the last several years, the number of statewide meetings in Juneau has dropped significantly and the Travel Juneau sales department, which is tasked with selling Centennial Hall, must prospect farther into the Pacific Northwest and West Coast for new business. All over the US, cities large and small — like Seaside, Oregon — are building or renovating their convention centers to attract the meetings business, which further attracts new businesses and development.
How much money are we talking about, and where does it go?
In Fiscal Year 2019, Travel Juneau brought in nearly $1.7 million in economic impact from meetings, many of which were held in the hall; this does not count all the business in Centennial. In FY 2020, that impact will jump to $2.4 million, and we have another $1.4 million in pending business. These are new dollars to Juneau – revenue that is spread among our year-round restaurants, retailers, caterers, hoteliers and all the folks they employ. Travel Juneau has lost, and will continue to lose, meeting business because Centennial does not meet industry standards. Without a much-needed overhaul, Centennial Hall will become unsaleable.
Centennial Hall has served the city so well that we take it for granted. And while conventions and meetings are an integral part of Juneau’s economy, we are facing increased competition from our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Investment in this valuable city asset will help make Juneau a prime northwest destination for this important business and we’ll be supporting each other in the process. On behalf of Centennial Hall and its potential for Juneau, I urge you to vote “yes” on Prop 2.
• Liz Perry is President and CEO of Travel Juneau, a private nonprofit dedicated to the visitor industry and its economic benefit to Juneau.