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Charlottesville, VA Business News

If we build it, will they come? First someone is going to have to actually build it.

Posted by lbanner on August 17, 2007

Boar’s Head Inn Hosts Groundbreaking For Area’s Largest Meeting Pavilion

If you’ve been involved in the Charlottesville area’s local business and hospitality scene long enough, you recognize the oft-voiced complaint of this region’s lack of a large conference facility. That lack equals dollars lost to other regions capable of handling the lucrative large conference market. Here’s an example: From the 16th Annual Meetings Market Survey published by Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association, 60 percent of respondents estimated the economic value of their meetings to the host destination at $1 million or more. In addition, 65 percent of respondents noted that they use area, off-site, restaurants to host conference functions. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie?

So it is no surprise that an August news release announcing the groundbreaking of a new, state-of-the art Meeting Pavilion at the Boar’s Head Inn included a quote from Mr. Mark Shore, Director and CEO of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Charlottesville has clearly become a destination of choice for meeting and event planners,” said Mr. Shore, “but we have lost business opportunities by not having large enough facilities at a single site.”

The new Boars Head Inn Meeting Pavilion, a $10 million expansion project directed by the University of Virginia Foundation, is set for completion in September of 2008. Ms. Sandy Fitz-Hugh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the UVA Foundation, explains the purpose of the new Pavilion in this way, “The Board recognized that the Pavilion project would not only support the growing needs of the University but would also offer an important new platform for larger in-house conferences, meetings and social events … We look forward to an exciting future for the facility and to its playing a role in enticing even more leisure and business travelers alike to Charlottesville and the surrounding area.”

Consisting of nearly 17,000 square feet, the new Pavilion will include a large pre-function space, meeting rooms, and a grand ballroom in excess of 5,500 square feet, as well as a full kitchen. Noted also in the release, the newly-completed ballroom will become Charlottesville’s largest. Ah! The large convention market to Charlottesville at last? No, not really, for how large is large?

The two most commonly competing venues in the Charlottesville region for conferences and ballroom events are the Doubletree Hotel, located on Rt. 29 north, and the Omni Hotel, downtown Charlottesville. The grand ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel totals 4,850 sq. ft. and holds a maximum of 500 people. The Omni boasts a grand ballroom of 5,445 square feet also holding a maximum of 500 people. And the new Boar’s Head Meeting Pavilion? As noted, its ballroom is 5,500 sq. ft., a mere 55 sq. ft. larger than the Omni’s. And it’s capacity? Though the “footprint” has yet to be “carved in stone” as it were, the current estimate is a maximum of 580 people. Somehow, it doesn’t quite seem that those additional 80 folk will serve as the region’s tipping point for the large convention market.

What would it take? Just for reference, the Greater Richmond Convention Center, host to many a Virginia-based conference, possesses a grand ballroom of 30,500 sq. ft. with a maximum human capacity of 1,500. So it would appear that the only way for Charlottesville to actually compete in the large convention marketplace would be for the Boars Head Inn, with its new facility, the Omni, and the Doubletree Hotel, to somehow work-together at enticing the conference crowd to Charlottesville. You might not be able to get all 1,500 attendees in one room, but with three 500 people grand ballrooms, maybe you could link them virtually.

Otherwise, rather than “enticing even more leisure and business travelers alike to Charlottesville and the surrounding area,” it looks more like the new Meeting Pavilion at the Boars Head Inn threatens to compete in an already tight 500 person dinner and meeting market. Well, given that UVa actually owns the Boars Head Inn and so too the ground which has been broken for the new meeting pavilion, at least the University, wishing to host a conference or 500 person dinner, will no longer have to frequent the services of Charlottesville’s local, private hotel enterprises.

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