Fair board seeks new proposal for convention hotel

2/1/2013 3:15 PM
By Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky State Fair Board voted Friday to seek a new round of proposals for an upscale convention hotel at the state fairgrounds, this time dangling a more lucrative offer of tax incentives in hopes of attracting a developer.

The fair board has tried a handful of times since 2007 to get a company to build a minimum 600-room flagship hotel at the sprawling convention complex south of downtown. The board's last request for offers a year ago drew just one proposal.

The latest request for proposals includes new language that will allow private developers to fully capitalize on available tax credits, said Fair Board Chairman Mark Lynn. The goal is to entice interest from more hotel-development companies.

The hotel would be located near Gate One. It would offer full-service amenities including a restaurant and lounge and business center.

"It would be a big benefit to our convention business," Lynn said.

The hotel would feature an elevated walkway connecting it to the fairgrounds' South Wing exhibit complex.

Lynn said he hoped that an uptick in the economy and the reopening of an adjacent amusement park will improve chances to finally get a fairgrounds hotel off the ground. Last month, the fair board reached a lease agreement with a group of private investors to reopen Kentucky Kingdom, which has been closed since 2009. The investment group hopes to have the rides running again in 2014.

Asked if the hotel could open about the time the amusement park reopens, Lynn said, "That would be great. I don't know if we can pull that off. ... It depends on how fast they want to build it."

Lynn declined to identify the one developer that submitted a proposal from the request that went out a year ago. He said the new request for proposals will benefit that developer as well.

"Not having all things listed ... left out a major piece of the puzzle" in seeking state tax incentives, he said.

Lynn said the hotel would be developed at no cost to the state.

Jim Wood, president and CEO of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said a fairgrounds hotel as part of the convention complex would improve the city's chances of landing more big conventions. Two of Louisville's regional competitors — Nashville, Tenn., and Indianapolis — both have full-service hotels connected to their major convention facilities by pedways.

Wood and fair board President and CEO Clifford "Rip" Rippetoe said large organizations often ask whether a convention hotel is situated close to a convention center.

"This will put us in the game for some of those (conventions) we've not been able to pursue," Wood said in a phone interview.

Conventions have generated at least $230 million annually in economic activity for Louisville in recent years, with a high figure of about $331.6 million during that span, according to figures supplied by the local convention and visitors bureau.

The city's hotel occupancy rates have been close to 60 percent in recent years, Wood said.

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