WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)-- Before it opened last fall a lot of people in town thought the Wilmington Convention Center would be a waste of money. Instead the center has been quite the opposite.
"Many people thought that this would have been a waste of money and have a big big price tag to it," said downtown business owner Isaac Lazer. That was then and this is now. "Quite a few people who come to these conventions, they end up walking on front street, spend some money at our store, hotels, restaurants. All of us benefit from this flow of people," continued Lazer.
The Convention Center's General Manager says it's not only local businesses that are happy. There have been many out-of-towners giving positive responses as well.
"The excitement that we feel the center creates is that it allows a group to convene here and then stay in their hotel and go out and explore the city," said Wilmington Convention Center General Manager Susan Eaton.
Over the next three months the center is scheduled to host 34 events, including one in July with over 1,500 people.
"When you look at the economic impact of that you're looking at almost $18 million of impact of the 23 groups we have booked to date," said Visitors Bureau President Kim Hufham.
The Wilmington Convention Center is fully funded by room-tax revenue not local tax dollars. That makes tourism essential to its operation says the Visitors Bureau.
Highest priority for using the center is currently based on how many hotel room-nights an event will generate. That means people from elsewhere will come to Wilmington and see everything the city has to offer.
"We are introducing our area to people that have never been here. Sure they come here, they use the convention center, its their first trip, but we're hoping they are going to come back and vacation later and of course bring more meetings in as well," Hufham said.
There was a bill passed through the state senate last week by Sen. Thom Goolsby about changing the booking policy at the Wilmington Convention Center. This bill would give local events priority over out-of-towners. Now the bill has been put on hold.