Mar 28, 2024 - News

Durham wants to boost tourism with a new convention center

Illustration of the sun and moon transitioning over the Durham skyline.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Discover Durham

Durham's tourism agency is calling for the city to invest in a new convention center as part of a sweeping plan to improve its downtown and visitor industry.

Why it matters: The Triangle's downtowns are all seeking ways to reinvigorate themselves after the pandemic changed daily commuter and work patterns, causing daytime foot traffic to plummet.

Driving the news: Discover Durham, which leads Durham's tourism efforts, unveiled a master plan earlier this month on improvements the city could make to its downtown to boost visitor spending in the Bull City over the next two decades.

  • The plan calls for a new convention center (Durham's is the smallest in the state), a push to bring new festivals to the city, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and other improvements.

What they're saying: Susan Amey, CEO of Discover Durham, said Durham struggles to attract many conventions because of the size of its convention center, which is attached to the downtown Durham Marriott.

  • "A lot of meeting planners want to come to Durham for its vibe and personality but we can't accommodate them," she told Axios.
  • The issue isn't square footage, though the convention center "probably needs to be three to five times" its current size, Amey added. "The (current) convention center can only host certain type of events. We don't have a big exhibition hall. And some events need more breakout space."
  • Durham Mayor Leonardo Williams has previously said that a new convention center would be "much needed" to boost Durham's attractiveness to visitors, ABC11 reported.

Yes, but: Finding a centrally located space for a new convention center could be hard in downtown Durham, with land costs rising significantly in recent years, Amey says.

Finding the funding could also be a challenge, the master plan notes.

  • Discover Durham only gets a portion of Durham County's occupancy tax to put toward tourism and promotion, which the organization says is not the norm in the state.
  • Wake County, for instance, uses its occupancy and food-and beverage taxes to fund tourism-related developments through its interlocal fund, which is helping pay for improvements to PNC Arena as well as the Raleigh Convention Center.

The intrigue: Last year, Raleigh pledged funds to expand its own convention center to make it more attractive for events that bring tens of thousands of visitors to its downtown core every year.

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