Convention center poised for growth
SouthtownStar Editorial September 19, 2011 8:48PM
Updated: January 23, 2012 3:51AM
Amid all the bad economic news in the Southland since the Great Recession slammed home three years ago, there have been some bright spots here and there but none more so than the Tinley Park Convention Center.
Since opening 11 years ago, the center, 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue, has been an unqualified success — growing steadily, drawing about 500,000 visitors annually in recent years and generating roughly $150 million per year in related business activity.
Those numbers are expected to increase substantially now that the enlarged center (120,000 square feet) is able to accommodate bigger shows. The new projections are about 650,000 visitors and an overall economic impact approaching $265 million.
The village held the official grand opening ceremony last week, but the expanded building has been open since late June when it debuted with the National Council of Corvette Clubs convention.
Aware that the center was missing out on business because it was not big enough for certain conventions, village officials began studying enlarging the building and approved the $22 million expansion project in 2009 — financing it through more tax revenue from a special taxing district and a higher hotel/motel tax.
It has nearly doubled the center’s size, adding 58,000 square feet, which will qualify the building to host about 75 percent of the conventions held nationally compared to 40 to 45 percent before, according to village officials.
One such show snagged by the convention center, the Chicago Motorcycle Show and Parts Expo, has been held at Chicago’s McCormick Place. With its added space and lower costs, including free parking, the Tinley Park center was an attractive alternative for the organizers of the event, which will be held in February.
As an official with the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau said last winter, “We’re in the Midwest, at the crossroads of many different expressways, and close to Chicago without the costs of Chicago.”
In addition to the expanded convention center, village officials are working to foster related business growth nearby. The adjacent Holiday Inn Select hotel’s expansion has been delayed, but it still plans to add rooms, and a developer has acquired some vacant land by the center for restaurants and retail shops.
Surviving well a severe recession, the Tinley Park Convention Center is poised to be an even stronger economic engine for the Southland once the economy turns around, while helping to further raise the region’s profile among convention groups and planners.
It’s a gem that we all should value, and Tinley Park officials deserve credit for pursuing the expansion amid a fearsome economic storm.