Dayton to give up ownership of convention center

Montgomery County agreed to create a new entity to own and operate the Dayton Convention Center — a joint city and county board that has the power to increase the lodgings tax to pay to upgrade the aging facility.

The move has been hailed as an important step to ensuring the convention center will have the funding needed to make capital investments to keep the facility competitive and attract more business.

“This is good news for the city, this is good news for the region,” said Joe Parlette, Dayton’s deputy city manager.

The convention center has been owned by Dayton.

“As a city, owning and operating a convention center is very uncommon across the country,” Parlette said. “Most of the time, it is a regional asset.”

MORE: Dayton presses county for help to save convention center

The new Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority will have until the end of next year to decide what kind of tax levy it wants to impose, up to a 3 percent cap.

The city of Dayton has committed to giving all of its revenue from its 3 percent lodging tax to the convention center through the end of 2060.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution creating the new convention facilities authority, which will be an 11-person body appointed by the county commissioners, Dayton’s mayor and other city mayors.

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said the convention facilities authority will be the overseer and operator of the Dayton Convention Center, which has been owned and operated by the city since it was built in 1973.

Dayton is the only large or mid-sized city in Ohio that owns and operates a convention center.

MORE: Task force: Dayton Convention Center should be saved

The city asked Montgomery County to create the new body so it could transfer ownership of the facility, located at 22 E. Fifth St., which has been bleeding money for years.

The city will still own the land rights for the site, but it will transfer ownership of the building and its contents, according to a memo of understanding between the city and county.

“So we’ll retain rights to the land as the city, but we will convey to the convention facilities authority all the improvements, i.e. the building, its fixtures, finishes and things of that nature,” Parlette said.

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City and county leaders say this is the first step in a lengthy process, but the creation of the new authority paves the way to add up to an additional 3 percent hotel/motel tax in the county to pay for capital improvements for the center, which Dayton leaders have requested for years.

A 24-person task force that studied the convention center estimated it needed between $20 million to $28 million in improvements.

The new authority can levy new taxes to reinvest in facility repairs and modernization to make sure the convention center is a regional asset, Colbert said.

Montgomery County held four stakeholder meetings across the county to get input about the convention center, and hoteliers and business owners strongly indicated they wanted a facility of this size and scope, Colbert said.

“Without the convention center, they will hurt in business,” he said, adding that citizens also spoke about valuing the venue.

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Montgomery County has agreed to provide $200,000 annually to the convention facilities authority for the next three years. Dayton’s lodgings tax revenue will be turned over to the authority.

The authority, by state statute, has to decide on a tax levy by the end of next year, officials said.

The authority is expected to issue bonds to pay for facility improvements and will use its revenue to pay the principal and interest.

Next steps include appointing members of the authority, which is expected to happen by early next month. The authority is expected meet by the end of the year or early in 2020.

The authority also is expected to seek a third-party management company for the facility, and its members likely will want an evaluation of the task force report and the center’s condition to try to figure out what improvements are necessary, Colbert said.

The new authority will help the community compete for convention groups, youth and amateur sporting events, military reunion events, faith-based groups and many other types of business that will bring outside dollars and visitors in, said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Clearly, the Dayton Convention Center is the largest facility of its kind in our region, and it’s important for us to be able to reinvest in it to continue to secure future business and maintain the business that we already have,” she said.

RELATED: With Dayton Convention Center bleeding red, task force formed

About 70 percent of the county’s lodgings tax goes to the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the rest goes to entertainment-related activities, officials said.

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