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Madison County supervisors to hear new proposals for conference center

MadisonConfCenterchart_rgbBy TED CARTER

The push for a conference center and privately funded hotel in Madison County has been mostly dormant the past 10 years.

That could end Aug. 17 when the Board of Supervisors takes up a resolution to support a proposal from the county’s Economic Development Authority to explore a partnership with Holmes Community College for building a 63,000-square-foot center on Highland Colony Parkway. The center is estimated to cost between $13.8 million and $18 million.

“The resolution just says, ‘Here is a plan,’” said Tim Coursey, Economic Development Authority executive director.

“We’re asking for their support to move forward,” he added, and noted business and civic leaders, including members of the Madison County Business League Foundation, have joined the effort.

“The resolution is just us saying everything is starting to line up,” Coursey said.  “The business community loves it. Let’s get some direction from you guys before we go forward.”

With a positive reception from the Board of Supervisors, supporters would have representatives of Johnson Consulting make a presentation to the board in September or October.

Holmes Community College would establish a culinary arts school and a hospitality management school at the conference center, Coursey said.

“We’ve got a hollow framework of how this might be financed, basically leveraging the resources the junior college already has to cut expenses.”

The college would provide the security guards and allow hospitality students to help with the conferences, he added. “We can eliminate practically all of our operating expenses if we planned it right.”

He emphasized an arrangement with Holmes Community “isn’t the only idea that is out there.”

The effort gained momentum several months ago with completion of a conference center feasibility funded by the now-merged Madison County Foundation and Madison County Business League.

The study by Johnson Consulting of Chicago analyzed the local conferences and meetings market, Madison County’s market position within the conference industry. It also included recommendations and projections of the conference center’s demand and operations.

A Johnson Consulting study 12 years ago showed the county needed a conference center but the income-and-expense projections made prospects for success “borderline,” Coursey said.

“Since then, the population has exploded. A lot of businesses have moved in. We decided to pick up where it left off.”

The new Johnson Consulting study projected that losses would occur the first 10 years.

The center would end its first year with expenses of $625,000 leading to an operating deficit of $452,000; $753,000 in expenses bringing a loss of $129,000 by the fifth year; and $852,000 in expenses resulting in losses of $146,000 in the 10th year.

However, having Holmes Community as a partner should defray the deficits, according to Coursey.

Total spending is projected at $12 million in year one, $19 million in year five and $22 million in year 10, the study found.

On the use side, Johnson projects 200 meetings and conferences the first year, a number that would grow to 289 the fifth year and remain through the 10th year.

Along with the meetings and conferences, exhibitions, banquets and entertainment events would generate attendance of 70,840 the first year, and 102,650 the fifth year through the 10th year, Johnson Consulting says.

Addressing the use potential, Coursey said the first year of event use of the Butler Snow law firm’s top floor conference room matched the use threshold cited in the feasibility study. That indicates the center would see plenty of use, Coursey added.

Coursey and other supporters of the conference center say a hotel of 200 rooms to serve the center is a key part of the plan. But they want to be sure other hotels are not on the drawing boards for Colony Parkway, Coursey said.

“We don’t know what the private sector is already thinking about,” he said. “That is why we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”


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