"We guess documented, [because] you can't really know how many people come through the door, 45,320 patrons the first year of operation," said Ellen Archer, executive director for the local CVB, the entity that staffs the Clarence Brown Conference Center. "The first calendar year is slightly lower. We've guess documented 41,495 but the revenue for the first quarter of operation was only $48,000. The average revenue for a quarter of operation, it now is $67,000. So the revenue has gone up although there is fewer people.
"But that only makes sense because we did a lot of complimentary things right at first to encourage people to come see us. ... We targeted when we're fully running [to serve] 75,000 [people] a year. So I think [45,000] the first year, [41,000 to 45,000 the first calendar year], to hit over 50 percent of what your target is, I'm happy with it. To make budget, nothing can run at 100 percent, but our budget as it stands right now, if we booked at 15 percent of capacity, we could make budget," she said, adding two-thirds of the conference center's funding is created from its rental fees and services and one-third is generated by the additional penny hotel/motel tax. "So we have a lot of capacity that I think is going to come in. The staff [also] has matured, everybody's getting a little bit more comfortable where we are and [we] really and truly have not been able to do much one-on-one sales efforts. And we are starting that now, which is very important."
According to CVB data of the conference center's first 12 months of operation, "Approximately 10 percent of [the 45,320 overall] patrons required overnight accommodations in the Cartersville area, resulting in 4,500 room nights. The direct expenditures in the local economy from visitation generated by the center was approximately $2,411,024, resulting in an additional $72,330 in local sales tax and SPLOST. The center's total operating budget for the first year was $367,490, rendering a ROI [return on investment] of 6.8:1."
Located at 5450 State Route 20 in Cartersville, the 44,000-square-foot facility features nine meeting rooms, an executive board room, a ballroom accommodating 1,400 people, a lecture hall, banquet hall, and the Bartow Amphitheater and Pavilion. In its first 14 months, the conference center has played host to a wide array of private and public events, with public offerings like toy or gun shows attracting about 2,000 people over several days and weddings, banquets and corporate Christmas parties sometimes drawing more than 400 participants. While the percentage of patrons are split among local and non-Bartow residents, the majority of functions are private events.
"Whether you're coming in for a wedding or a corporate training session, if it justifies an overnight expense that person on average spends about $129 per person per 24 hours as opposed to about $47 per person for a day-trip visitor," Archer said. "So it's money, which equates to jobs. When we have a large event here, not that we do not allow outside caterers from outside Bartow County, 75 to 90 percent of the catering work stays right here in Bartow. And that's a big chunk of change. Quite often people spend more on food than they do for the rental space. An ad that we've run for the conference center over the top it says 'Discover Cartersville,' then it's about the Clarence Brown Conference Center. In having a captive audience, somebody has to come to a meeting. They have to go to a reception.
"They may never think about stopping in Bartow County or coming in this direction but if you are a captive audience you are exposed to something whether you like it or not. I've said it 100 times, it's kind of like going back to the [Miss Georgia USA and Miss Georgia Teen USA pageants that we host], if we didn't have anything to offer our guests for return visitation or to extend the stay, it wouldn't be worth it. But we do. And people, by coming to the events held here, are force-fed. If nothing else when we have particularly public events, we keep screens going with scenes of Bartow County attractions. So we do have an opportunity to do direct marketing. ... We saw about 42,000 people in 2011. I think that's going to grow by 20 percent at least in the coming year and I don't think it's going to be long before we'll be seeing that 75,000 that we anticipate."
For more information about the Clarence Brown Conference Center, call 770-606-5763 or visit www.brownconferencecenter.com.