Louisville officials hope convention center funding will be restored
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The plan to fund a $180 million renovation and expansion of the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville hangs in the balance this week as lawmakers negotiate the state's next two-year budget.
One of the two legislative actions needed for the project is already on the way to Gov. Steve Beshear's desk: On Friday, the Senate passed a bill allowing proceeds from an additional 1 percentage point tax on hotel bills in Jefferson County to be directed toward the project's debt.
Yet, the Senate also removed $56 million in state bonds for the project from its version of the state budget. The money was part of Beshear's and the House's versions of the budget.
Louisville tourism officials "remain very hopeful" the $56 million will be restored by the conference committee of Senate and House leaders charged with working out budget differences, said Stacey Yates, spokeswoman for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The conference committee met Wednesday morning but took no action. Lawmakers said they would meet again Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, with a goal of wrapping up work over the weekend.
Yates said it's "too early to project" whether the convention center upgrade could still go forward without the $56 million in state money.
In an interview earlier this month, Kentucky State Fair Board CEO Rip Rippetoe said there was "no backup plan" to the financing arrangement Louisville officials had come up with for the convention center.
In a letter to legislators dated Monday, Rippetoe and Convention & Visitors Bureau President Karen Williams said without the upgrades, Louisville would lose out on 15 to 18 conventions annually, each with an economic impact of $2.9 million.
The $180 million plan grew out of a comprehensive convention center study completed one year ago.
The 1 percentage point hotel room tax increase – on top of the current tax of 15.01 percent – would cover about $42 million of the $180 million project. In addition to the $56 million in state money, the remainder would be covered by refinancing existing debt and a $17.6 million to $21 million annual contribution from the Convention & Visitors Bureau, according to C&VB figures.
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