Village Of Mount Pleasant Moving Quickly On Plans For New Convention Center

Industry Analyst: It's A Gamble That Has Not Been Fully Vetted

Aerial image of the Village of Mount Pleasant
Aerial image of the Village of Mount Pleasant. Alinghi3 (CC BY-SA)

The Village of Mount Pleasant in Racine County is working on plans to build a convention center.

Officials first announced the Mount Pleasant Veterans Memorial Convention Center in a press release last month. They’ve since put a request for proposal on the village’s website.

Rob Richardson, who chairs Mount Pleasant’s Tourism Commission, said the village needs more meeting space, and a large indoor venue.

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“Experts on this area (tourism) nationally say if you don’t have this type of venue, you are going to miss out on a lot of events because you won’t have that ability to do something indoors, on top of everything else we have in the area,” Richardson said.

The Mount Pleasant convention center is planned near the village hall, about two miles east of Interstate-94 and five miles west of Lake Michigan, where the City of Racine is planning to build its own convention center.

Construction of the Mount Pleasant project is scheduled to begin in mid-2021, although there are few details yet on the project’s size or cost.

According to the request for proposal, the center will have capacity of at least 500 people. A feasibility study is not planned.

Richardson said the study isn’t needed because the village created a strategic plan two years ago that included a convention center. At that time, Foxconn was still planning to build a large manufacturing facility and employ more than 10,000 people in the village. Those plans have changed.

He said the size and cost of the convention center will be decided once proposals are submitted.

Hotel industry analyst Greg Hanis, president of Brookfield-based Hospitality Marketers, said Mount Pleasant is in a good location — between Milwaukee and Chicago — but without a feasibility study, the village is doing a disservice to taxpayers.

“It’s a gamble that has not been fully vetted,” Hanis said. “It’s taxpayers who pay for this. Whether it’s coming from property taxes or from tourism taxes, it’s still money from Racine County and (the village).”

The Mount Pleasant project will be paid for using money generated by the state’s hotel room tax. Racine County has about 1,400 hotel rooms. About 780 of those rooms are located in Mount Pleasant.

Richardson said the village brings in a total of $800,000 to $1 million annually from its hotel tax.

State law mandates that municipalities can only keep 30 percent of the revenue generated by their hotel room tax for their general fund. The remaining money must be spent promoting tourism. Tourism promotion includes marketing projects such as advertising, distribution of printed or electronic promotional materials and media buys, or a tangible municipal development, such as a convention center or conference center or sports facility used for tournaments.

In 2018, the Village of Mount Pleasant threatened to end its relationship with Real Racine, the Racine County visitor’s bureau. Instead, the two entities came to an agreement so the village could have more control over its hotel tax money.

Competition With Racine

The City of Racine has also been planning to build a hotel and convention center along Lake Michigan for several years.

In February 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic, the Racine City Council revised its plans for the project.

The Racine project includes a 171-room hotel and a nearly 35,000-square-foot addition to the city’s existing Festival Hall. Shannon Powell, spokesperson for the city, said the pandemic has “slowed our convention center and hotel project but it is still moving forward and will be built.”

The City of Racine would not comment on Mount Pleasant’s plans.

Dave Blank, the president and CEO of Real Racine, said the village’s project could compete with Racine for some smaller conventions. It would also compete with other Mount Pleasant hotels that have large meeting rooms.

“There are some local events, that if you are looking for a 500-seat room, this will be another one added to the mix,” Blank said. “Like the Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, Big Brothers Big Sisters, those types of things. But when it comes to attracting big conventions, I think they’ll be at the downtown (Racine) facility.”

Both Hanis and Blank said it’s much easier to attract conferences when a hotel is attached. Both thought the region could be better served if the village builds an indoor sports center.

“Hockey right now is huge,” Hanis said. “Building something like that could be far more beneficial to the entire county region — Mount Pleasant and Racine.”

But Richardson said Mount Pleasant’s center is needed for more than just outside conventions.

“Once the pandemic is over, there is going to be demand for more meeting space, that’s what we’re hearing from our businesses,” Richardson said. “We have a lot of hotels that don’t have much more than a meeting room.”