Alpharetta's consultant researching the viability of a convention and conference center told City Council a joint public/private project with a hotel has the most chance for success.
Mark Woodworth, president of PKF Consulting, also told council the 25 performing arts centers in the region make it unlikely another one in Alpharetta could be successful.
"We've done a considerable amount of work over these past three plus or minus months," Woodworth said.
He said the study envisions the project would become operational on or about January 2016. If a project is developed, Woodworth said it should be professionally managed.
It also needs to be viewed as being a state-of-the-art facility by meeting planners to attract conferences and meetings.
Woodworth said in meetings with hotel general managers that "there is a very large need for additional demand for their rooms over the weekend."
The hoteliers hope that if developed, a conference center would help satisfy that need. In the current economic climate, 75 percent of the hotel visitors are either corporate or business transient customers.
Alpharetta lacks enough available conference space for the demand.
"Fairly consistently, group meeting or conference users turned away from Alpharetta found their way down to Perimeter Center or Buckhead," Woodworth said.
However, many local companies have their own in-house meeting space.
"That was an important finding that we had to take into account," he said.
A detailed online survey of potential users in or near Alpharetta revealed 58 percent of respondents required and used outside meeting facilities, with one in five having that need more than twice a month.
Some of the nearby places those companies are using for meetings include the Marriott in Alpharetta, the Doubletree Hotel in Roswell and the Hilton Garden Inn. The Metropolitan Club in Alpharetta was another choice. Others head south to the Perimeter Center
A lower response was received from meeting planners surveyed in the southeast. Of those few, roughly 8 in 10 were only somewhat familiar or not familiar at all with Alpharetta, which Woodworth called critically important.
And 70 percent said it was very unlikely that they'd ever use a facility in Alpharetta. Their reasons included that suburban locations generally are not as popular as in town sites and Alpharetta is not close to the airport. The cost of getting from point to point has escalated in the last three to five years, another important decision factor for meeting planners.
Very few hotel rooms in Alpharetta can be considered full service – offering food, beverage and in-house meeting space. Just under 11 percent are full service in Alpharetta, while in Perimeter Center one in three are full service, and almost half of them in Buckhead.
To be successful, Woodworth said Alpharetta would need to offer conference space greater than the city's current largest facility, which is the 8,000-square-foot ballroom at the Marriott on Windward. At minimum he suggested a 12,000-square-foot ballroom space, and a comparable amount of break-out space. The back end space needed to support the 25,000 square feet of meeting space would double the size of the facility.
Alpharetta's strengths for building its own conference center include the large number of meetings that currently need space. Its own designation as "Technology City of the South" shows another strength.
"And also we would be the biggest game in town," Woodworth said.
But Alpharetta also has weaknesses.
"Our distance on a good day from Hartsfield (Jackson International Airport) is a solid 45-minute trip. If you are much more than an hour that takes you off the prospective list of most meeting planners," he said.
PKF Consulting estimaes it would cost $21.6 million to build a 50,000-square-foot conference center in Alpharetta. But that cost doesn't include land, a point Councilman Chris Owens quickly pointed out. There's no free land in Alpharetta, he said. Costs now are between $250,000 and $500,000 per acre for suitable land.
Woodworth said costs could be lowered with a joint public-private partnership with a hotel.
"One of the most important considerations meeting planners have, is having meeting space under the same roof as lodgings," he said.
Answering Councilman D.C. Aiken's questions, Woodworth said metro Atlanta is not known as an entertainment city. The principle competitive attribute it has after accessibility to the airport is pricing.
"On a relative basis it is cheaper to have a meeting in Atlanta," Woodworth said. "Very affordable vs. New Orleans, Chicago or D.C."