The Visalia Convention Center has its eye on many prizes. So much so, that the city is investing $5.6 million to help them win.
The prizes are conventions and business meetings bringing people into the area from around the state, and the country, to help the local economy.
The city council had originally agreed to spend $5 million on a remodel, said Wally Roeben, manager of the convention center. But all bids came in a bit higher than expected, so the council agreed to another $600,000, eliminating some less necessary items, but covering the majority of the original plans.
The funding comes from Visalia’s general fund, said Leslie Caviglia, assistant city manager. And most of it comes through refinancing the convention center at a lower percentage rate, she said.
“It is more of a redo, than a remodel,” Caviglia said.
There is little being done to the structure itself, she said. Only a conversion of a set of seldom-used bathrooms to a conference room on the east side of the building.
Save for the exhibit hall, the convention center is seeing all new paint and wallpaper, carpet, tile and lobby furnishings, Roeben said. Charging and Wi-Fi hook-up stations will be added in lobby areas. New roofing has already been completed.
“As we compete with other cities, we need to refresh,” he said.
The convention center last saw renovations in 1990.
“This is not dissimilar to what hotels do,” Roeben said. “And they generally do it every 10 years.”
Currently there are about 27 workers on the project being performed by Johnston Contracting, Inc. of Fresno, he said.
The colors will be more earth-toned and will appear more inviting, he said.
Outside in the front courtyard, turf is being eliminated and drought-resistant plants are being planted, while keeping trees for shading.
“It will have a new look and feel as you walk up to the building,” Roeben said.
And, it will make the courtyard more accessible as part of the venue.
The project has a completion target date of the end of August.
Roeben said the facility is really a combined convention center and community center, with its primary purpose to bring out-of-town meetings in and its secondary purpose to accommodate the local community.
“It’s a constant balancing act,” he said.
The convention center is available 360 days a year and in some part of the center there is almost always something going on.
But the desire is for bigger draws of people who will come stay, eat and shop in Visalia and the nearby communities.
The main competition comes from Fresno and Bakersfield.
Visalia is an easy drive from most California locations and a good centerpiece between the south and the north.
There is little to draw those who come to attend meetings away from those meetings, like there might be in Las Vegas or Anaheim, and employers like that, Roeben said. It is a safe area with a lot of restaurants and shops close by. And a day outing to Sequoia or Kings Canyon is easily available.
Plus, it is a cost-effective area with many hotels. Having the Marriott next door is an added bonus, as the Marriott chain is the most requested by those booking conventions throughout the US, he said.
“The remodel of the convention center is a great regional project that goes far beyond just the city,” said Eric Coyne, Tulare County Tourism manager and Tulare County film commissioner.
“To host a large, multi-day event, that is a regional draw,” he said. “It will springboard to day trips and other hotels (outside the city).”
Indeed, the Transient Occupancy Tax is up in the county during the last fiscal year, Coyne said.
With that and the convention center remodel come more and new investors in the community’s hotel industry.
This will be discussed in the next edition of the Valley Voice.