Tuesday, November 01, 2011

After Waiting 20 Years for a Bay Mills Casino, Port Huron Moving On with Plans for Convention Center

Oct. 28, 2011

For years, Port Huron has longed for a major economic development. The city's time has come.

A new convention center and a revamped Thomas Edison Inn aren't the answers to Port Huron's economic needs, but they do constitute a significant boost.

Tourism leaders always tout Port Huron's potential as a destination. This $27.8 million project will give tourists a new reason to visit and a new place to stay.

Before the project was formally unveiled Thursday, Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown called it "a game changer for our community." It's difficult to disagree.

The hotel will be remade into a Hilton Garden Inn and a new 40,000-square-foot convention center will be attached to it. The hotel also will feature a new Twisted Rooster restaurant.

A Baker College of Port Huron facility will be home to a new culinary arts program and student housing will be built near the culinary institute.

Port Huron and St. Clair County officials have reason to brag about the project. It will take up 15.5 acres of land next to the Thomas Edison Parkway, a location that should make the most of its view of the St. Clair River.

The partnership of public and private interests might be an admission that government must play a role in economic development, but it also shows what that kind of cooperation can achieve.

The public stake in the project starts with the county. To finance the convention center, $9 million in 30-year bonds will be issued. In addition to building the facility, the money will cover the cost of buying its land and 11,000 square feet of meeting space at the hotel.

The bonds will be repaid from convention center revenue, tax money from the city's tax increment finance district and the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

First on the list of returns are the jobs the project will create. The project will be done in two phases. The hotel and restaurant renovations should start Jan. 1 and be finished by July -- just in time for Boat Week.

The convention center is scheduled to be finished in May 2013. The Baker College facility will be finished by November 2012.

It is fitting that the Edison Inn is the focus of this new development. The hotel once was the focus of Port Huron's hopes for a casino gaming facility.

The hotel and convention center project is a kind of confirmation. A casino undoubtedly would change Port Huron's fortunes, but this development is proof the city and county are making their own luck -- and it's about time.

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