Kingston city council moves forward with plan for $33M downtown conference centre

Kingston conference

A proposal for a 52,000-square-foot downtown conference centre in Kingston is moving forward as city council seeks developers for the new facility.

While a downtown conference centre has been discussed for a decade, the idea is gaining momentum and support from the community as Kingston looks for more opportunities for revenue and economic growth, officials say.

At a recent council meeting, the city’s conference centre working group presented a feasibility study that supported the development of a mid-size conference centre of 52,000 square feet that can accommodate up to 1,000 delegates. 

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The conference and meeting centre would be built in a space that is currently a parking lot on The Tragically Hip Way, across from the Leon’s Centre stadium and arena. As the report outlined, the central location is within one kilometre of five hotels.

The conference and meeting centre would be built in a space that is currently a parking lot on The Tragically Hip Way, across from the Leon’s Centre stadium and arena.
An aerial map view included in the report shows the location for the conference and meeting centre in a space that is currently a parking lot.

Ted Robinson, business events specialist for Tourism Kingston and a member of the working group, said that while Kingston may not have been ready for such a facility before, there’s no better time than the present. 

“It’s become quite apparent in the last number of years that, if we’re going to expand our position in the business events industry, we need more facilities than we have now,” Robinson said. “We’re losing out on a lot of business and I’ve tracked back and looked back at business we know we’ve lost out on, conferences we’ve bid on that have come back and said we don’t have what they need, but also businesses that aren’t even considering Kingston.”

One example of lost revenue for Kingston lies in the health-care industry. With Queen’s University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the hospital system, Kingston is an “important centre in medical research,” Robinson said. 

“There’s a ton of research being done here, but we can’t attract those conferences.”

The walkability and attractions of Kingston’s downtown core make it an ideal home for the centre, Robinson explained.

“We have a beautiful downtown core that’s compact and walkable, so from a sustainability aspect, we could attract people here and, once they’re at the hotel and conference centre, they don’t need anything to move around but their feet.

“We see this as a huge possibility for us with sustainability and attracting business and we can position Kingston as an alternative to other big centres. We feel we have broad community support and now it’s a question of, ‘Can we get this done?’ and ‘Will the pieces come together?’”

The cost of construction for the conference centre is estimated between $33 million and $41 million. The conference centre is projected to operate at a deficit of about $175,000 in its first year and approximately $110,000 annually in following years. 

The municipal accommodation tax (MAT) development fund committee recently approved a yearly contribution of up to $110,000 per year for five years to help reduce the operating deficits of the centre. 

City council has issued a request for information to engage local developers and is seeking more “fact-finding” with a return date for early in the fall, Robinson said.

Donna Gillespie, CEO of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, said “the time is now” for Kingston to invest in business tourism and events.

“(The report) shows a strong space for a centre with the tourism potential and economic impact,” she said. “Business travellers typically spend more per day than leisure travellers, so main street businesses would benefit directly from increased traffic.

“We need to look at the broader business because the ability to host conferences is an opportunity we are missing right now.”

SPEAKingston, an organization dedicated to “Smart Growth” for the city, is also in “full support” of the development, co-chair Wanda Williams told the council meeting.

“This development has been discussed for many years, in fact over a decade, but no decision has ever been made by past councils to advance it. The studies have been done, the experts consulted, the financial benefits to the economy are clear,” Williams said. “Now it’s time to grow business tourism and we believe a downtown conference centre will do just that.”

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