Hotels key for Vidalia Conference and Convention Center to thrivePublished 12:13am Friday, June 28, 2013
VIDALIA — The answer to reducing an expected budget deficit at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center is between the bed sheets, Director H.L. Irvin said.
Vidalia needs more hotel rooms to accommodate bigger conventions and bring in more revenue, he said.
The projected 2013-2014 city budget predicts that the convention center will spend more than it brings in, and though Mayor Hyram Copeland isn’t bothered, Irvin is eyeing the long-term solution.
The convention center’s budget projects $125,000 in revenue for the coming fiscal year and $594,755 in expenditures. Vidalia city accountant Ashley Anderson also projected the city would receive $200,000 in hotel tax next year. After adding revenue, hotel tax, the convention center’s current balance of $9,000 and subtracting expenditures, the city is left with a $260,755 deficit.
The center generates revenue by charging to rent rooms for weddings and other events. The conference center also receives a yearly occupancy tax from local hotels.
Copleand said he’s not concerned if the convention center operates in the red, since the building was not built to be just a moneymaker.
“It functions as a FEMA emergency shelter, a community center and it draws them into the city to spend money elsewhere,” Copeland said during a recent budget session. “In that sense, I’m not too concerned about a deficit.”
Irvin agreed with Copeland, but said he wants to entice two additional hotels — one on the Vidalia Riverfront and one near the Vidalia Municipal Complex — in hopes of increasing the occupancy tax revenue.
Since 2009, the city has declined to host 14 conferences, which would have filled a total of 3,070 rooms and brought more than 4,500 people to town, because of a lack of hotel space.
Some of the lost conferences were required by the state to host the conference in Louisiana and could not be transferred to a Natchez hotel, Irvin said. Others may have simply chosen a different location.
Currently, the Comfort Suites is the only large occupancy hotel in Vidalia. That hotel has a total of 102 rooms, but is at 70-to 80-percent capacity on average, owner Virgil Jackson said. The hotel hovers at 50-percent capacity during slower times, Jackson said.
Even when completely empty, the Comfort Suites couldn’t accommodate the smallest conference that Vidalia lost — the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice at 160 rooms.
Without the ability to house the larger conventions, Irvin is implementing a plan to reduce convention center expenses and closely watch the money being spent.
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the building has been overhauled to reduce expenses.
“We were spending 15 to 20 thousand per month on utilities because of the air conditioner,” he said. “The air conditioner was constantly blowing 60-degree air. The heater ran simultaneously to bring air to room temperature.”
Now the air conditioner runs at room temperature, rather than 60 degrees.
Irvin said the changes cut utility bills by 75 percent.
The convention center is also seeing savings this year as a result of seven employee layoffs during 2011 and 2012. The convention center currently employs eight people.