Planned improvements at the Springfield Expo Center could bring more cars and motorcycles — and the wallets of those who love them — to the downtown area.
The City Council approved a plan Sept. 24 to reallocate a portion of hotel-motel tax revenue that previously had gone to Wonders of Wildlife.
In the future, that money will be split between debt repayment and new projects, but about $328,000 accrued in the past year is being used to upgrade the 10-year-old Expo Center on St. Louis Street.
First on the list of recommended improvements: a $250,000 upgrade of the fire sprinkler system in the main hall of the building.
“The way it is right now … we cannot do any kind of exhibits in there that involve automobiles or other motorized vehicles with gasoline in their tanks,” said Tracy Kimberlin, president of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau and a member of the Expo Center Advisory Board.
Car shows and motorcycle association events are examples of events that could be booked, Kimberlin said, adding that “there are more than you might think that have vehicles they want to pull into the exhibit facility. So it opens up the doors.”
Other recommended expenditures include $45,000 for wireless Internet equipment and $20,000 to reconfigure the lighting in the older, trade center portion of the building. If enough money is left over, an electronic sign board also could be added outside the building.
One thing not on the list is a gas-powered generator.
Estimated to cost about $750,000, the generator — meant to reduce the electricity used to cool the building in the hottest parts of the summer — ranked first on an earlier list of Expo Center needs.
The large amount of electricity used at the center during a few summer shows has forced the Expo Center to pay a year-round surcharge based on that peak demand.
Officials hope a recently added, computerized “load-shedding” system will help avoid those charges in the future by monitoring peak energy consumption and shutting off air-conditioning equipment as needed.
“The total electricity being fed into the building is controlled so it doesn’t exceed a certain rate,” said Jonathan Gano, assistant director of public works. Additional sensors have been added that automatically turn off the air conditioning when the loading docks are open.
Gano gave credit for the energy-saving ideas to Robert Henley, who took over in January as general manager of the University Plaza and the Expo Center.
A city report released earlier that month had been critical of John Q. Hammons Hotels and Resorts’ management of the Expo Center. But Gano said Henley “has done an exceptional job, both meeting the requirements in the operating agreement and even going beyond that.”
Henley, who also manages the Tower Club, said load-shedding systems have been added at other Hammons properties to good effect. He said the peak demand surcharges at the Expo Center have been close to $100,000 a year.
The new sprinkler system and other planned improvements will be a boon, as well.
“We’re just really excited to get this done so we can start booking some new shows into the Expo Center,” he said. “That business is good for downtown and hotels around the city … it helps everyone in the community.”