The city of Bowling Green might soon be getting out of the convention center business.
The Convention Center Corp. Board, made up of the Bowling Green City Commission and Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, unanimously agreed Tuesday afternoon to issue a request for proposals for someone to purchase and operate Sloan Convention Center.
“We are looking for someone to enhance the convention experience,” Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said, adding that the city is better suited to do things such as provide fire and police service as opposed to competing against the private sector in operating a convention center. The RFP requires Sloan to remain open as a convention center for 25 years.
Sloan Convention Center, which opened in 1995 at 1021 Wilkinson Trace as the Bowling Green-Warren County Convention Center, is owned by the city of Bowling Green, with the Convention Center Corp. serving as the governing body.
The center is funded through event revenue, the Hartland Tax Increment Financing District and from a portion of the hotel-motel tax in the county.
It was renamed in January 2002 for Patsy T. Sloan, Bowling Green mayor from 1988 to 1991, according to the city’s website.
The bonds used to build the center were paid off this year and the Hartland Tax Increment district will be dissolved.
City Commissioner Sue Parrigin, who is also the chair of the convention center board, said “the city of Bowling Green should not be in competition with the private sector whenever possible.”
Wilkerson said that at the time Sloan was built, it was the only such facility in the city and was needed to help build the city’s convention and tourism business.
Commissioner Dana Beasley-Brown asked Sherry Murphy, director of the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, if she thought a change in ownership would hinder the ability to attract conventions to the city.
“It depends on who the owner is,” Murphy said, adding that the bureau is mainly interested in making sure Sloan remains open as a convention center. She added that convention centers typically do not make money on their own but are revenue generators for the hotels that are typically attached or near to them.
City Commissioner Brian “Slim” Nash said he was originally opposed to the idea but had heard from some in the private sector that they would be interested in operating Sloan. He also said he likes the idea of freeing up the hotel-motel tax funds for potential other uses.
The adjacent Holiday Inn University Plaza hotel manages day-to-day operations of the convention center in a contract that runs through 2020 and has the right of first refusal to purchase the center. The city can also reject any proposal it receives.
Last year, the city completed a multimillion-dollar restoration of the center, including a total makeover of the lobby space, a new roof, landscaping, an LED sign on Scottsville Road and other improvements.
The 60,000-square-foot Sloan includes a 19,500 square-foot grand ballroom that can accommodate 1,500 people.