by James Logue on March 24, 2015
FOR THE EXPONENT TELEGRAM
Bridgeport Conference Center has played large part in region's tourism business
CLARKSBURG — After nine short years, the Bridgeport Conference Center is enjoying great success. So much so, that a newer, bigger facility is in the works.
"If you look back nine years, there was the conference center, the Wingate Hotel and a couple of cows," said Scott Duarte, general manager of the Bridgeport Conference Center. "Now we are a meetings destination that this area didn't have for many years. And the demand is there for a new facility."
Plans are to build a new 25,000-square-foot conference center nearby with an adjoining hotel.
Mark Dellana, executive director for development at Charles Pointe, said the current 15,000-square-foot conference center is having trouble accommodating larger events.
"We need a little more size to put large groups in. There are a lot of family events, for instance, where you can get 300 to 400 people. We don't have to do studies to see if we have a need. We already know that," Dellana said.
Duarte said last year's meeting of the state Municipal League showed the need for a bigger conference center. A climate-controlled tent was erected in the parking lot for extra meeting and dining space.
"That alone is justification for a new facility," Duarte said.
The Bridgeport Conference Center has played a large role in tourism in the region, Duarte said. The facility landed about 300 events last year of all different sizes. And it has done so in a very competitive market.
"In our location, we compete with Morgantown and Flatwoods. Because of that we have to keep an eye on quality of service, and that keeps them coming back," Duarte said. "Repeat business makes up a large majority of our business, and that speaks volumes."
Once the conferences are booked, participants are also looking for things to do when they're not in meetings. Bridgeport can offer pleasant distractions to the hum-drum of meetings and workshops.
"We have Meadowbrook Mall for shopping and movies, and there are opportunities for golfing," said Michelle Duez, executive director of the Bridgeport Visitors and Convention Bureau. "Plus, you can get just about anywhere to state parks and the best West Virginia has to offer.
"Sports is also a big draw in this area, and the Bridgeport Recreational Complex is the best in the state for baseball and softball tournaments," Duez said.
And the Bridgeport Conference Center has played a role in recent years in big-time college sports by hosting Big 12 football teams that come to play WVU.
"We had TCU and Baylor last year," Duarte said, "and we are well on our way to signing four or five teams this year. In our discussions with the coaches, they love the ease of access and efficiency. When they land at the airport, they are off the plane and in the hotel room in 20 minutes, and they love that."
The conference center allows ample meeting and dining space for teams, and it provides bus service for the players to Mountaineer Field.
"It used to be that teams would fly into Pittsburgh and stay in Washington, Pennsylvania," Duarte said. "The only time they would see West Virginia was at the football stadium. Then after the game they'd go back to the Pittsburgh airport."
When all the particulars are worked out, Dellana said the new conference center and hotel could be open in a matter of 18 months to two years. The new facility would be built nearby at the end of Market Place, just off Conference
"The new center will allow us to do more things," Dellana said. "We have the location tied up, and I have the proposals ready to execute."