In the mid 1980’s the State of Illinois made a sizable investment in the construction of public assembly facilities in various communities throughout Illinois. The state legislator’s goals were to improve quality of life opportunities for its citizens and to spur economic development. Both of these objectives continue to be met by Gateway Convention Center. As a result of this initiative, the Collinsville Metropolitan Exposition Auditorium and Office Building Authority was created by the Illinois Civic Center Act. The Authority owns and operates Gateway Convention Center. The purpose of the act was to accomplish the aims of the State of Illinois to enhance the ability of its citizens to avail themselves of civic and cultural centers.
Gene Brombolich, mayor of Collinsville from 1975-1991, and at one time, board member of Gateway Convention Center, initially proposed the construction of a convention center in the community of Collinsville. Brombolich was instrumental in securing the funding and support for construction of the 60,000 square foot multi-purpose facility.
Revenues that initially funded the construction, operation and promotion of Gateway Convention Center were derived from the collection of a 5% hotel/motel tax, 1% food and beverage tax and all operating revenue collected from the use of Gateway Convention Center.
The local development that has resulted from the construction of Gateway Convention Center could hardly have been envisioned back in the mid-1980s when the idea to build a convention center first came about. Now Gateway Convention Center anchors the Eastport Plaza area, which has evolved into a viable hospitality business center, that affords visitors and event participants the opportunity to meet, eat and sleep in one location.
In 1995, just shortly following Gateway Convention Center’s initial years in operation, the decision was made by the Authority to look at the feasibility of expanding Gateway Convention Center. The Authority felt that the future of Gateway Convention Center depended on its ability to bring larger events to the Center and provide more space to allow current customers to expand their business. This would in turn bring more people to the area that will spend more dollars at local hotels, restaurants, service stations, shops and attractions. For the reasons of business retention, missed opportunities and competitive considerations, two subsequent expansions of Gateway Convention Center have come to fruition adding more than 45,000 square feet to the venue’s original footprint. In 2006, the building underwent its third expansion to its present day 105,000 gross square foot facility. In 2017, Johnson Consulting was retained to perform a thorough market analysis and develop a long-range Strategic Plan for the facility and its surrounding support environment. The Long Range Strategic Plan came to fruition when both Gateway Convention Center and the City began to question the financial viability of Gateway Convention Center given the upcoming expiration of TIF on December 31, 2021. With TIF expiration, a lack of funding options, and the anticipated competition both locally and regionally for event venues, the City and Gateway Convention Center decided to seek professional guidance in preparing a Strategic Plan to evaluate the operations of Gateway Convention Center as well as business opportunities, capital improvements and actions the City should consider improving the market position of Gateway Convention Center. The plan identified the strong but eroding market position of the Gateway Convention Center that if activity was not taken would result in a further eroding financial position of Gateway Convention Center. While the Plan was written from the perspective of the Center and the focus, in many regards, will be on the various options for enhancement and possible renovation of the center’s facilities, many of the key drivers influencing the future of the Center exist outside its walls and authority. The recommendations were meant to help define the Center’s “niche” and also the means to be financially sustainable.
One of the recommendations that came from the Long Range Strategic Plan was that Gateway Convention Center operations merge with the City of Collinsville. This will provide consolidated thinking, economies of scale and branding among the CVB, Parks and Recreation and Gateway Convention Center to present a united front in pursuing target events and promoting Collinsville. Most importantly, this will provide access to funding for recommended improvements at the Gateway Convention Center and allow the Gateway Convention Center to fully embrace the proposed recommendations.
On May 1, 2018, unified efforts for economic growth began when the City of Collinsville took over the ownership and operation of the Gateway Convention Center. The consolidation of the City of Collinsville and Gateway Convention Center unites both entities in economic development activities and policies. The Gateway Convention Center contributes approximately $36 million to the City economy and the unification allows the City to lead at a time of renewed economic activity. The consolidation when coupled with the creation of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department as well as the recent acquisitions of Willoughby Farms and Splash City Waterpark allows the City to make tremendous strides in leading the region in tourism activities and developing an even more robust hospitality market.