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Our View: Don't give up yet on conference center

Posted: March 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Santa Clarita received some disappointing news last week: A brand-new conference center that could help put the city on the business and tourism map would cost up to $27.5 million to build — not including the cost of land to put it on.

The two council members on the subcommittee that heard the conference center update Tuesday seemed understandably chagrined. Councilman TimBen Boydston argued starting from such a deep hole is no way to operate a business, while Mayor Bob Kellar said the potential cost of land on top of construction costs could be a deal-breaker.

We share the council members’ disappointment but note the report represents only part of the story. The master plan study didn’t lay out economic benefits to local businesses of having a Santa Clarita conference center; the "plus" side certainly needs to be considered in the equation, not just the "minus" side. So we feel this needs further study.

The city could reap benefits from having a conference center in the Santa Clarita Valley, as could local businesses in the area. And those businesses’ benefits can also benefit the city.

Consider the following:

The Valley Economic Development Center held its 11th annual capital expo in Santa Clarita this past year, and so many people attended that it resulted in standing room only at some of the work sessions.A conference center that could accommodate such conferences could draw more such events here, resulting in benefits for local businesses and potential long-term growth benefits for the city as it gets a chance to draw the attention of potential new local businesses — and potential new local employers.

Not having a conference center could mean missed opportunities for the region. Will the Valley Economic Development Center return here when the city cannot offer adequate facilities? Such conferences require at least 15,000 square feet of space, said Jason Crawford, the city’s marketing and economic development manager.

There are local businesses in Santa Clarita with national and international locations that could hold their company conferences in the city. Nonprofit and social or recreational event organizers as well could all benefit by having a conference center.

With tourist attractions such as Six Flags Magic Mountain and the Santa Clarita Valley’s world-class golf courses already in place, conference-goers could find plenty to do outside of attending their conferences, providing opportunities for more tax revenue locally while also developing the reputation of Santa Clarita as a good place to visit.

If a conference center were to be built, events would fill up existing hotels, creating tax revenue, but also create new demand for more rooms. And that would generate additional economic benefit through construction jobs, long-term jobs, increased sales tax revenue and more tourism spending at local hotels, retail shops, attractions and restaurants.Santa Clarita has grown to the point that it can support a conference center, and adding such a feature to the city’s offerings makes sense. The obstacle of cost is daunting, and this of course needs to pencil out, but a study of the benefits a conference center could bring is still worth doing.

While the exact magnitude of a conference center’s impact on local businesses has not been calculated, projected increases in sales and hotel tax revenues show that additional money will indeed come to the city, said Wil Soholt, a senior vice president at Kosmont Companies, which prepared the conference center master plan study for the city.

Mr. Kellar had an encouraging suggestion at the City Council economic development subcommittee meeting: approach the owners of Saugus Speedway about locating the conference center on their land under a partnership with the city.

Such cooperative thinking has gone a long way toward improving this city. Just last week a partnership between a shopping center owner, a church and the city moved things ahead on one of Santa Clarita’s longest-standing goals: adding more parkland to the city.

Perhaps it can do the same on this issue — if not with Saugus Speedway owners, then perhaps with another landowner.

It’s worth further study and further consideration. Let’s keep our minds open and our determination strong on this issue.

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