Lack of convention space drives Tim Hortons away

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A lack of convention centre space in Ottawa has forced a large Canadian company

to locate its national convention

elsewhere.

Tim Hortons sent a letter to the Ottawa Congress Centre stating it has been forced

to locate its gathering elsewhere

because the facility can't handle the company's requirements.

In the letter, Tim Hortons president and chief operating officer Paul House states

that the convention centres space "was at

full capacity in hosting our July 2000 functions and would undoubtedly be

insufficient to house our next convention three

years hence."

The 2000 conference attracted between 1500 and 1800 Tim Hortons delegates

plus the company's suppliers, Congress

Centre president David Hamilton says.

Leslie Miller, president of the Ottawa Tourism and Convention Authority (OTCA),

says the loss of the conference will cost

the city about $2 million in spin-off revenue.

Jacquelin Holzman, chair of the Congress Centre, says the Tim Hortons news is a

"tragedy," but the problem is nothing

new.

"It's a crisis," she says. "In the last five years though, $22 million worth of business

was turned down at the Congress

Centre because we couldn't handle it."

The flight of the company has the city's tourism authority kicking its public

awareness for a new convention centre into high

gear.

Otto Heberlein, chair of the OTCA, says new convention space for the city is an

"absolute" necessity.

"(Tim Hortons) is one of the companies that cannot be housed in our facilities any

longer," he says. "We're really falling

behind and we really need to step to the plate now."

Heberlein says the OTCA is beginning its public awareness campaign to rally the

city's businesses and its citizens behind

the project, especially now that it's obvious the city is falling behind.

"It's easy to overlook tourism, but it's a key growth sector to the city," he says.

"We're not looking for money. That's not the

point. We need to bring the issue to the forefront."

As part of its plan, the convention centre backers have sent letters to city councillors

and the mayor to stress the importance

of supporting the project and getting it started quickly. The campaign was

purposely started to coincide with the election of

the new council.

Key members of the business community, such as the Ottawa Centre for Research

and Innovation (OCRI), the Greater

Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and high-tech firm Mitel all sent letters to the

council in support of moving the project

forward.

Heberlein says building a convention centre should be the city's No. 1

infrastructure priority, ahead of Queensway

expansion or the light rail project, because of its revenue potential.

He estimates that a convention centre would generate about $12 million in annual

tax revenues for the city once operational.

OTCA statistics show that Ottawa has less convention space than cities like

Winnipeg and Halifax. Because of this lack of

space, the city has lost almost $78 million in revenues. This translates to 2,286

full-time jobs lost, the OTCA says.

In late 1999, then regional chair Bob Chiarelli spearheaded The Ottawa

Partnership (TOP), a community-wide initiative that

recognized seven areas of growth facing Ottawa's economy. Tourism was

recognized as one of the clusters primed for

growth, but a lack of convention space was pinpointed as the sector's major

obstacle to growth.

Holzman says getting the project moving will not only help the tourism industry, but

will also bring more than $235 million

worth of construction projects to the Rideau Centre parcel of land.

She points out that the convention centre, which is to be built on top of the Rideau

Centre, is the main factor holding back

the planned $50-million expansion of the mall as well as the creation of a new

400-room downtown hotel.

Organizations: Tim Hortons, Ottawa Congress Centre, Paul House Ottawa Centre for Research Chamber of Commerce Mitel Rideau Centre

Geographic location: Ottawa, Winnipeg, Halifax

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