Tribes, Downtown Set Construction Pace

For much of Tulsa’s convention, meeting and entertainment sector, the first half of 2009 is a continuation of the last half of 2008.
The cranes are still downtown, having moved from the BOK Center to the Convention Center.
The county-wide tax that has developed so many attractions and improvements throughout Tulsa, that funded the construction of the BOK Center, now is paying for renovation of the Prime Site Award-winning Tulsa Convention Center.
The work is transforming downtown.
These developments, along with Tulsa’s hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping and hospitality, are making Tulsa a venue many in the region consider for their next event, said Janet Rockefeller, assistant general manager for SMG Tulsa, which manages the sites.
Tulsa Convention Center
The Tulsa Convention Center, opened in 1964, has played host to 25 million people during 20,000 events. Construction of the ballroom on the northeast corner will add another 30,000 SF to the facility. When done, the general session area will be able to seat up to 900 people, while the addition allows for more exhibit hall space.
The latest work opens up opportunities, Rockefeller said.
“We have so much more to offer now,” Rockefeller said.
“Years ago we hosted the Sam’s Clubs and Walmart, Pre-Paid Legal, O’Reilly Auto Parts. But they have moved onto larger facilities,” Rockefeller said. “With economy the way it is, there are groups that will not have a national meeting here but will have a regional meeting. And, because people can drive, they will be more apt to come.”
The ballroom feature is enhanced by the construction of a 250-foot tunnel that allows food service and housekeeping details to remain behind the scenes, Rockefeller said.
Once SMG-Tulsa came onboard as to manage the facilities, the group began shopping the center’s set of rates and realized they needed to do something. Rates had not changed in 15 years, Rockefeller said. Beginning in January 2010, when construction is complete, rates will increase an average of 18 percent.
“This increase is in response to the fact that the Convention Center did not increase rental rates from 1992 to 2007,” she said.
Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center
The economy has had little effect on Tulsa’s four-star facility, the John Q. Hammons Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center, at U.S. 169 and 71st Street.
Year-over-year figures are nearly identical, said Bill Bomprezzi, director of marketing.
“The first half is about the same as the second half of last year, Bomprezzi said. “The group business and event function is slightly down year-over-year. We’ve had some cancellations.”
The difference has been in a reduction in size of events, Bomprezzi said.
“Instead of 1,000, groups tell us they are only bringing 750,” he said. “Some non-profits will reschedule a meeting, postponing ‘until next month.’”
Where the Renaissance has seen a difference from a year ago is the week-day business traveler, Bomprezzi said. Today the hotel, which normally books about 200 rooms a night, is down to anywhere between 160 and 180 a might.
Also different this year is that the Renaissance looks to book religious groups and class reunions at the hotel than it did a year ago.
Tribal Centers
The real growth, however, has come in tribal enterprises.
The Cherokee, Creek and Osage tribes combined to spend close to a third of a billion dollars on expansion projects over the past three years.
The Cherokee Casino and Resort booked 60 percent more room nights year-over-year and has seen a 46 percent hike in room revenue, said Stacy McKee-Redden, director of sales at the Cherokee Casino Resort. Occupancy is 100 percent every weekend.
“Our hotel occupancy and room revenue remains steady,” said McKee-Redden. The Cherokees have upped the ante, too, spending another $175 million, adding 200 more hotel rooms and 23,000 SF of convention space, which is set to open May 1.
A month later, on June 1, the name changes to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa.
“The Hard Rock experience and added size makes us a great fit for convention businesses on a regional and national basis,” McKee-Redden said. “We are drawing more business from surrounding states. The added space and configuration makes this property perfect for groups of 200 to 400 people. We have plenty of space for large meetings and dinners, but also have board room-style and pre-function areas for break-out sessions and receptions. In the past we had limited space so we had to focus on smaller groups.
The new facility holds 337,000 SF, making it the largest casino in the state. The 19-story hotel tower has 200 hotel rooms, bringing the total room count to 350, and the convention center seating holds more than 1,000 people.
Hard Rock Tulsa offers more than 35,000 SF of flexible meeting space and a large ballroom that will seat up to 1,000 people.
“Meeting planners are drawn to Hard Rock Tulsa because of the option to stay overnight in hotel rooms and the variety of entertainment and dining all under one roof,” McKee-Redden said.
Future plans include a 2,500-seat, multi-use entertainment theater coming in 2010, McKee-Redden said. Other amenities include Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, more than 110,000 SF of gaming; live music every night in four venues and the 18-hole, par-70 golf course.
The Creek Nation opens its latest expansion this week, a $195 million project to built south of the original building along Riverside Drive. It provide a 272,000 SF casino and parking structure. The second phase consists of a hotel and convention center. The Creeks have added 2,800 slot machines and a 480-seat buffet and lounge.
The Osage Tribe’s Million Dollar Elm Casino, constructed in 2005 on 36th Street North, is five minutes from downtown. The $16 million facility is 47,000 SF.
Expo Square
Also wrapping up construction is Expo Square, at Pittsburg Avenue and 21st Street.
Expos Square’s attendance of 1,613,756, through the end of 2008 was up 3 percent from ‘07’s 1,566,411, said Sarah Thompson, spokeswoman for the Expo Square/Tulsa State Fair. Both figures exclude Tulsa State Fair attendance, which pulls nearly 1 million annually.
Bookings through 2009 will be comparable to 2008, Thompson said.
“Several new events are coming from other venues, not only around Tulsa, but from out of state as well,” she said.
Trends are hard to spot, Thompson said, because it depends on the venue.
“Expo Square has noticed both increase and decrease in attendance, varying by event,” she said.
With the completion of Central Park Hall and the Exchange Center in 2008, Expo Square will continue marketing to existing events and seek to increase the number of events that may require mid size exhibit space, Thompson said.
“Expo Square is looking into the future with excitement,” Thompson said. “With new events and existing favorites, Expo Square brings variety to the Tulsa.”
Advantages for Expo Square are 11,000 free parking spaces and its location in midtown.

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Leave A Comment?