Op-Ed: NKY County Leaders Show Courage with Support for Convention Center
President Ronald Reagan once said this about leadership, "A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets tough".
The judges-executive and county commissioners of Boone, Campbell, and Kenton counties have shown the type of unwavering leadership described by President Reagan through their unanimous support of an initiative that will provide funding for the planned expansion of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.
The modest 1 percent increase in the region's hotel tax - which by statue had to be approved by the fiscal courts in our three counties - will seed a capital fund that will ultimately be used to promote the entire region, as well as expand the 204,000-sq. ft. convention center in downtown Covington, a project that will create jobs, bring visitors to hotels, restaurants, businesses, and attractions throughout Northern Kentucky and allow our center to remain competitive with other cities and regions.
The business community recognizes the tremendous economic impact of Northern Kentucky's travel and tourism industry, which continued to boom in 2016 by generating nearly $1.7 billion of total economic impact including $388 million spent by visitors to Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.
The Northern Kentucky Convention Center is a major component of that success. Since opening in 1998, initial booking projections are up nearly 40 percent. The center's 2,500 events have generated $1 billion in economic impact while directly supporting 350 hospitality-related jobs in the region.
But we are still missing tremendous opportunities. Due to its size, the Center is losing business to competitors that are investing in new and expanded centers in other communities.
Our officials recognized, correctly so, that funding from the federal and state government is no longer a reality for projects such as this.
To pay for its new center and at the urging of Gov. Matt Bevin's administration, The City of Lexington raised its hotel bed tax by 2.5 percent. The city plans to use the $10 million raised by the increase to pay back $60 million in upfront bond funding fronted by the State of Kentucky. What Lexington demonstrated was that using a hotel bed tax increase to fund a convention center expansion is emerging as the new model in Kentucky.
So, thanks to the fiscal courts, we are now on a similar path as Lexington toward economic development, job growth and new investment in the community.
The expansion will have a clear ripple effect across the region. While the Convention Center may be located in Covington, many visitors to the center use the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop and visit attractions in all three counties.
It is important to recognize that this is not a tax on local residents. It will be paid by the out-of-town visitors who use and benefit from our hotels and convention center. Even with the increase, Northern Kentucky's overall hotel tax of 12.36 percent is still lower than the tax in Dayton, OH (13.3 percent), Lexington (16.1 percent) Cleveland (16.5 percent), Indianapolis (17 percent), Louisville (17.1 percent), Cincinnati (17.5 percent) and Columbus (17.5 percent).
It is an unfortunate that the courage and vision displayed by our judges/executive and county commissioners will be derided by some in our community. But once again, thankfully our elected officials stood tough, tall and together in supporting a major initiative and project that will make our entire community a more vibrant and enticing place to live, work and visit.
On behalf of the entire membership of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, I express gratitude, admiration, and support for the Boone, Campbell, and Kenton judges/executive and county commissioners for being leaders of our community.
Brent Cooper is the Interim President and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce