IN TRANSITION: Chair discusses Centre’s future

Cesar Cantor, Chairman of the Convention and Visitors Transition Board (CVT), spoke candidly on the future of the South Padre Island Convention Centre. (Staff photo by Ray Quiroga)

Cesar Cantor, Chairman of the Convention and Visitors Transition Board (CVT), spoke candidly on the future of the South Padre Island Convention Centre. (Staff photo by Ray Quiroga)

Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS

When Cesar Cantor, General Manager for the Pearl on South Padre Island, was approached with the opportunity to sit on the Island’s newly formed Convention and Visitors Transition Board (CVT), tasked, among other things, to research available options for the future of the South Padre Island Convention Centre, Cantor agreed to volunteer his services under one stipulation, that the board’s dealings be as open and as candid as possible.

During an equally candid interview with the Press last week, Cantor admitted that the Island’s governing entities, at times, and in certain circles, have garnered the reputation of being quite secretive, and for Cantor, that practice and reputation is simply counterproductive.

During this week’s City Council meeting, the council voted to dissolve the Convention & Visitors Advisory Board (CVA), in place of the CVT. As Cantor explained, the CVT, unlike the CVA has fewer members and its members are the decision makers of their organizations. All members of the current CVT are leaders in the full service hotel or condominium industry. And all agree that they and the city must do more to attract visitors during non-peak times of the year, namely after the summer months and before spring break.

Ultimately named as the Transition Board Chair, Cantor said there are a number of concerns and rumors surrounding the future of the South Padre Island Convention Centre, the most discerning is the erroneous belief that whatever option the city decides to follow with regards to the convention centre, there will be an increase in taxes.

“Not true,” Cantor says, explaining that any project involving the convention centre will utilize hotel-motel tax dollars, also known as the Hotel Occupancy Tax.

The tax is imposed on a person who pays for a room or space in a hotel costing $15 or more each day at 6 percent (.06) of the cost of a room.

Local hotel taxes apply to sleeping rooms costing $2 or more each day. The tax covers hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, as well as condominiums, apartments and houses rented for less than 30 consecutive days. Persons leasing their houses or rooms in their house must collect hotel occupancy tax from their customers.

Local taxing authorities are authorized to impose an additional local hotel tax that is collected by the local taxing authority.

In the end, Cantor said the Island has one of three options when it comes to the convention centre: renovate/expand its current facilities, construct an entirely new structure, or do nothing.

Cantor admits, prior to sitting on the board and reviewing the current evidence, he was all in favor of either expanding the edifice or constructing a new one. Today, however, Cantor is open to reviewing all the facts and so is the rest of the board and the city, he said.

As it currently stands, the South Padre Island Convention Centre has outlived its life expectancy, Cantor said, adding that the facility is in dire need of rehabilitation and expansion to accommodate the needs of the area and to draw more lucrative events and clients. Expansion to the 45,000-square-foot facility could cost upwards of $10 million, but that’s just to bring the structure up to par and make it competitive as an attractive alternative for events and conventions, Cantor said.

Today, the convention centre can accommodate groups from 20 to 2,500 in size, as compared to neighboring city’s complexes such as the McAllen Convention Center which is an 18.5 acre complex which features a 60,000 sq. ft. column-free exhibit hall and over 25,000 square feet of meeting space in four ballrooms and up to 16 breakout rooms.

Cantor, in fact, hesitates to describe the SPI Convention Centre as a convention center at all, instead preferring to call it an exhibit hall.

And, of course, there are the geographic factors and factors involving the Island’s infrastructure that have to be considered, such as the single access to and from the Island via the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway and the limited hotel/motel space that’s available on the Island. All these factors will be considered, Cantor said, adding that regardless of the city’s decision, the community is years away from seeing substantial changes to its convention centre.

Read this story in the March 7 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

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    • Island Investor on March 8, 2013 at 8:03 am
    • Reply

    So what happens if the new convention center doesn’t generate enough revenue, and the Hotel Occupancy Tax doesn’t cover the bills? Island residents are going to get stuck with the check, right?

    Also, is it fair for ALL overnight island guests to help pay for a convention center that most will never use? I think not. To me this whole thing looks like PORK for the big hotels. There is a limit to how much you can screw tourists before they stop coming, or reduce the length of their stays.

    Has there been a truly independent study to justify expanding the convention center, or even repairing it? I haven’t seen one.

    It’s a disgrace how the big hotels on this island have managed to sweep aside the concerns of most island residents. What they’re doing may be legal, but it is certainly not ethical.

  1. Expanding the Convention Centre is an incredibly stupid idea. By all reports, the McAllen facility is way underutilized as is our existing center – the convention business is an old, tired model whose heyday is past us. The expansion project will suck up all the funds that could be used to support festivals, concerts and mercados that could draw people here in the off seasons. I really hope the town comes its senses on this.

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