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Expert evaluates what Milwaukee needs to attract larger conventions

Expert evaluates what Milwaukee needs to attract larger conventions

By Matt Montgomery. CREATED Apr 16, 2012 - UPDATED: Apr 16, 2012

MILWAUKEE- Milwaukee is expected to grow about 800 new hotel rooms in the near future, and that has John Mercure of Wisconsin's Afternoon News wondering if that could mean bigger conventions in the Brew City.

Paul Upchurch, the president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee told John there are four elements that are needed to land larger conventions.  First, expand the convention center; second, add hotel rooms closer to the convention center; third, expand general awareness of Milwaukee to convention planners and fourth, have convenient and affordable air travel.

Upchurch noted that Milwaukee already has some large conventions, citing Northwestern Mutual's convention which features around 12,000 people and the American Legion convention which had around 14,000 attendees.

Expanding Milwaukee's convention center has been an idea that has been kicked around for years, but doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon.  Upchurch hopes that Milwaukee reconsiders that project.

Upchurch added that convention planners look to have the fewest number of hotels to accommodate people, generally less than four is ideal.  He said planners generally look for a 1,500-2,000 room range when organizing conventions -- a size that Upchurch believes Milwaukee comes up short with most planners, since largest hotel, the Hilton has 729 rooms.

However, with the expansion of the 800 new rooms -- coming from Potawatomi Bingo Casino, a Marriott hotel and some smaller hotels, Milwaukee could be able to use that to attract those larger conventions, depending on what convention planners think of those new hotels.

Upchurch pointed out that back in 2008, Milwaukee was voted one of the top 10 best value vacations in America.  He said that people love Milwaukee when they come here, but that they would like to expand the amount of tourists here for business or pleasure.

Additionally, Upchurch said that air travel is a huge element on the business and tourism in Milwaukee.  Milwaukee County has the most tourism of all the Wisconsin counties, and cuts in the airline industry can affect Milwaukee's ability to attract more travelers.