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Center should target tourists

August 07, 2003

The best advice to come from a consultant studying the possibility of a new Washington County convention center was a recommendation to use the Venice Inn site at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Dual Highway.

A rebirth of that historic hotel, at the gateway to Hagerstown, would certainly be welcome. But we have questions about what's being proposed.

Speaking to a joint meeting of the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners, Tom Hazinski of HVS International said the area should consider building a 60,000-square-foot facility.

Hazinski and his associates refused to estimate the cost of such a center, but said HVS would provide figures and suggest a final site in a month.

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At the same meeting, Hans Detletsen, HVS senior international manager, said the firm's analysis showed that the demand here is for consumer shows, which he said do not bring in as many overnight guests as other types of events. For consumer shows, he said, the biggest draw is within 25 miles of the site. The HVS report says that by 2008, the center could host 239 events drawing more than 90,000 people.

Our question: If the bulk of these visitors will be coming from within 25 miles, will there be a large benefit to Washington County?

Presumably those who live within that distance are already familiar with local attractions, so the possibility exists that they would attend the event, then return home without shopping in local stores or eating in area restaurants.

A convention center should be designed to draw visitors who would not otherwise come here, people who between sessions of their conventions would spend their dollars locally.

To attract such business, Washington County needs more than a center. It needs a theme as well. Perhaps it's Civil War tourism, perhaps it's something else. A convention center that only draws local people might be nice to have, but it's the out-of-towners with cash to spend who should be its target audience.

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