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Leaders See New Tourism Lure -- Convention Center Reno Plans

FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - Making Fort Worth more of a tourist destination – it's something the city wants to do, but how? One plan starts downtown at the Fort Worth Convention Center. City leaders are now getting their first look at what it would take to make that happen.

A newly released study of Fort Worth's downtown hospitality industry shows the number of hotel room rentals has doubled over the past seven years due in part to demand for the city's convention center. But, the company conducting the study told Fort Worth City Council Tuesday the city isn't keeping up with demand and is turning away new and potential repeat customers.

"They love this walkable environment," Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, said of the convention package the city has to offer. "But, unfortunately, the building has some space and other challenges and the hotel room block downtown could be enhanced."

Hunden's study found the north end of the convention center was one of the biggest problems.

The saucer shaped building was constructed in the 1960's. Meeting rooms in the center are cramped and its outdated arena is relatively unused. It often hosts local events like graduations.

The contrast between old and new is enormous. "So, what you've got, you've really got a Jekyll and Hyde building," Hunden said.

Hunden's study recommends knocking down the flying saucer like building and putting in a rectangular structure to match the more modern part of the convention center.

The new building would be four stories tall. It would add a 50,000 square foot ballroom that could be subdivided or used as an arena. The renovations would change the shape of Commerce Street.

Right now, Commerce bends around a seldom used convention center annex. With the new plan Commerce would be straightened to make room for a major new hotel, retail and restaurants – all located across the street from the convention center.

And if the city builds a new special events center in the arts district to handle local events, the study says the new convention space would spur another boom in tourism.

"The group sizes might be smaller than say a gun and knife show or a bridal show or something like that," Hunden said. "But the dollars they're going to spend are going to be a lot greater because they'll be spending the night for three nights. They'll be eating out. They'll be shopping."

The study also suggested adding up to 2,000 new hotel rooms to keep up with demand generated by new convention center business after rebuilding.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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