A preliminary study commissioned by the city of Tuscaloosa recommends its leaders consider building a mid-sized convention center in the Druid City, documents obtained by the Tuscaloosa Thread show.

The study, which is being conducted by C.H. Johnson Consulting out of Chicago, was commissioned in early 2020 to carefully analyze the Tuscaloosa area, its existing venues, population trends, finished and planned hotels and much more with the ultimate aim of helping leaders decide if a new conference center and athletics venue is needed in the city.

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Almost two years later since the firm was hired, their 66-page preliminary study recommends considering the construction of a medium-sized venue -- larger than any meeting space Tuscaloosa has to offer already, but smaller than the massive Birmingham Crossplex or the Hoover Met Complex.

"Based on market research, there appears to be significant regional competition for large multipurpose indoor sports facility," the preliminary study said.

The sweet spot for Tuscaloosa, according to the study, would be the construction of a new venue in which the largest space is somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 square feet, making it larger than the Bryant Conference Center, the Tuscaloosa River Market, the Embassy Suites and the Hotel Capstone.

"There is a heavy concentration of venues in the 5, 000 to 12,000 SF in the state but then a major gap in facilities until you get to the 72,000 SF ballroom at the Renaissance Montgomery," the study found. "The target for the largest space at the proposed new event center should be in the 20,000 to 40,000 SF range. The research and data indicate that the lower target for a 20,000 SF multi-purpose hall, plus support areas, still to be defined, is most appropriate for the Tuscaloosa market."

"This will not duplicate what is already existing in the market, will provide a space that can comfortably seat 1,500 people for a banquet event or up to 100 10 x10 exhibit booths, provide a size of venue that is currently lacking in the state, and will be of the size category that can target the highest number of events in the regional market."

A smaller venue could certainly fill the needs of those looking for large meeting spaces to organize consumer shows and other conventions, it would also limit what sporting events could be held in the facility.

"The current recommendation of 20,000 SF is not conducive for large basketball/ volleyball events. The size constraints would limit the number of actual courts, thus impact breadth and scale," the study said. "Consider cheerleading, dance, gymnastics and wrestling as part of the recommended 20,000 SF hall. Pickleball may
be another consideration but again would be limited by the size and space."

The study is still in its middle phases. Johnson Consulting said their next steps include projecting and analyzing demand for a new venue, a final recommendation on its size and scope, an analysis of potential sites for the new space and trying to predict the cost of constructing and operating a new facility amid a large number of ever-changing factors.

The report has been presented to the 31-member Elevate Advisory Council, and is expected to be posted publicly on the Elevate Tuscaloosa website soon.

For more updates on the possibility of a new convention center and athletics complex, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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