Bellevue has a problem: No space in the city has the capacity to host events like large wedding receptions or conferences.
“Really, if you have more than 100 people, there's nowhere to go,” said City Councilwoman Carol Blood. “It's hard for even Kiwanis Club and other service groups to find a place to hold meetings.”
That's a big deal for the state's third-largest city because it's losing tax dollars to nearby communities that do have such meeting space, Blood said.
Officials believe they've found a project to fill that void — a $5 million to $7 million conference center attached to a high-end hotel northwest of 36th Street and Highway 370.
The Bellevue City Council approved a blueprint for such a center Monday night. The council also annexed 85 acres of land on which the conference center would sit.
“We've known Bellevue's needed something like this for a long time,” Mayor Rita Sanders said.
She expects it to draw business from Offutt Air Force Base for events that can't be held on base, as well as other events from Bellevue and around the region.
The Bellevue center would be about one-third the size of La Vista's Embassy Suites hotel and conference center, which opened about five years ago.
The La Vista center's director of sales, David Scott, said a Bellevue conference center would probably compete with the La Vista facility as well as the 44 other hotels with meeting space in Omaha.
Competition “keeps us all honest and keeps us fresh, and I think that's a good thing,” he said.
But he said a smaller, possibly cheaper Bellevue conference center could draw customers who wouldn't come to the La Vista center in any case.
“We know we won't be all things to all people,” Scott said.
The tentative agreement is for Bellevue to pay for and own the conference center, which would hold about 1,000 people.
The city's portion of the money would come from the conference center's income plus sales taxes from the newly annexed area, including the proposed hotel and existing businesses.
“Those numbers have to work out,” Sanders said. An attached $15 million hotel would come from private money. Officials expect the hotel to be like Hilton or Marriott, with 150 or more rooms. Planning documents also allow for office space nearby.
The next step is for Steve Johnson, a local developer, the city and the hotel developer to come to a formal agreement. That will probably take a few months, Johnson said.
He said he has a hotel developer onboard, but he declined to identify the developer until the agreement is reached.
Jim Ristow, president of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, said he expects a deal to happen.
“I feel pretty confident this thing will come together,” Ristow said.
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