Convention center rebid one piece in Downtown changes

By Published: October 05, 2018 4:00 AM CT

Construction contractors get a detailed look Friday, Oct. 5, at changes to the $175 million renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The gathering at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, next to the convention center, includes not only a briefing for potential bidders on the project but also a diversity workshop hosted by the city of Memphis – the sixth in a series of sessions — to involve more minority- and women-owned local businesses in the undertaking.

The city is rebidding the interior and exterior renovation of the convention center following a first round of bids earlier this year that came in higher than what the city is willing to spend on what amounts to an overhaul of the 45-year-old facility. The project will be financed with $175 million in general obligation bonds.

City leaders hope to award the contract and start construction late this year or early next year.

“It is going to be as modern and as fresh as a brand-new constructed building,” Memphis Tourism president Kevin Kane said. “However, we are not expanding a lot. We are not adding a lot of space to our convention center. We’re more of rightsizing what we have. In the trend in convention centers today, there is less of an emphasis on exhibit space and more of an emphasis on breakout meeting space.”

With views of the Mississippi River on its western side, the renovated convention center is part of a “bicentennial gateway” plan as part of observances marking the 200th anniversary of the city’s founding next year.

The gateway plan includes the multi-billion-dollar expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the nine-block area between the hospital and Bass Pro Shop, north of the convention center. The hospital’s expansion is expected to fuel and leverage other private multi-use development in the area, commonly called the Pinch District.

A second convention center hotel project still in the formative stages will be funded with hotel-motel tax revenues and sales tax revenue from the Downtown Tourism Development Zone. Later this month, the city goes to the State Building Commission in Nashville seeking approval of the use of the TDZ revenue for the hotel project.

The second round of bidding puts the convention center’s timetable behind its original schedule but still on target to be completed by the end of 2020 in the city’s tentative agreement with developers of the second convention center hotel.

THM Memphis Acquisitions LLC of New York and Loews Hotel & Co. hope to close on the hotel deal with the city in the first quarter of next year. The agreement includes a provision requiring that the hotel of at least 500 rooms be completed by January 2023.

The $200 million hotel complex, as currently planned, will include a restoration of the 100 North Main Building and the construction of two 30-story towers next to it on the block of North Main Street between Adams and Jefferson avenues. But the hotel itself will be a newly built structure in the Civic Center Plaza directly across from the City Hall building.

Loews chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch, in a visit to the city in September, said the hotel site is firm but other details of the overall development could change between now and closing.

“We felt that by starting with a blank piece of paper, designing the property to the specifications that have worked for us in other markets, was an optimal opportunity for Loews Hotels and the city of Memphis,” Tisch said.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has acknowledged the scope of the Loews hotel project, combined with the convention center renovation, could trigger larger changes later in the Downtown landscape, including the Civic Center Plaza.

“City Hall does not need to have river views,” he said recently about the possibility.

The plaza was designed in the mid-1960s and includes not only City Hall but the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building and the Memphis Police headquarters in what had originally been the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building.

The police headquarters at 170 N. Main St. was briefly considered as a possible site for the second convention center hotel before it was ruled out in favor of the open mall area next to the Downtown Memphis Commission building.

“You will see other hotels now start to conceptualize,” Tisch said of the impact of the two large projects, which together represent a nearly $400 million investment Downtown. “We believe in that. We want to help create a strong tourism infrastructure.”


Memphis Cook Convention Center Jim Strickland Kevin Kane Jonathan Tisch
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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