August 25, 2020 – Last week the renovation of the Memphis Renasant Convention Center was to have been “substantially completed.” In case the name confuses you, that is the same building that used to be known as the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
If you’ve driven by the facility, you can see work is still underway. Now the completion date has been moved back to October or November — the answer varies depending on who you ask and how you ask the question.
For almost a year and a half officials with the convention center and the city have said the nearly $200 million renovation was “on time and on budget.” That changed substantially two or three months ago when an unexpected structural detail was discovered around the area below the ramp that trucks will use to go to the loading dock. It is unlikely, however, that discovery by itself has led to all of the two or three month delay in the completion of the project. While the construction crews have continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it, too, has probably has an effect on the construction time line.
As for the budget, that is being stressed, too. According to knowledgeable people, with expected upcoming expenses it looks like the renovation is running a quarter to a half million dollars over budget and there could be further unexpected costs. Those overseeing the work are still looking at ways the excess might be reduced. Despite the current budget outlook, there have been rumblings that items that had been cut from the original project design before construction started to bring the budget within expected available funds should be put back in, which would require additional funding. There are also some maintenance items needing attention, like a leaky roof over the connected Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. The argument being advanced is that with a nearly $200 million renovation it should not be left without final touches that are apparent to users of the facility and the attached Cannon Center. Those “necessary” items to make it look like a “finished building” would be expected to add a little more than $5 million cost to the project.
While the construction delay and the potential additional costs may be disappointing, it is pointed out that if the delay were to happen it probably could not happen at a better time. Although the original idea was to continue hosting events at the convention center, it became obvious to the center’s officials that the construction was too disruptive and caused the convention staff to stop scheduling events for the renovation period. In addition, organizations that would have been holding conventions and other events this year have cancelled or postponed their gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means there would have been little or no business for the convention center during the extended construction period anyway.
The costs are a different story. A person close to the project’s oversight says there just is not any more money the city has available for expense overruns or additional features. Despite that, it is said that officials are looking for ways to come up with the money.
The Convention Center Board of Commissioners are expected to face the financial dilemma tomorrow when they have their regular monthly meeting.