|Fort Worth hotel changes challenge church
The Fort Worth (Texas)
Convention Center is site of the 2008 United Methodist
General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking
body. Delays in downtown hotel construction and
renovation have led to late changes in accommodations
for delegates and others attending the 10-day event this
spring. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Fort Worth
Convention and Visitors
A UMNS Report
Jan. 18, 2008
With just over
three months until The United Methodist Church convenes its
worldwide assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, the city's changing
downtown hotel landscape is forcing organizers to scramble for
rooms to accommodate delegates, church leaders and staff.
The Rev. Alan J.
"It has been a perfect storm," said the Rev. Alan J.
Morrison, business manager for the 2008 General Conference.
"The hotel industry in Fort Worth is in total flux."
Despite the challenges, Morrison is confident the housing
issues will be settled adequately with the assistance of the
Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau. Together, they are
booking rooms in outlying hotels to accommodate any overflow
from downtown Fort Worth. (PDF Map)
"Instead of having five or six hotels downtown with large
blocks of rooms as we had hoped, we'll meet our needs with a
list of about 20 hotels, including some that aren't downtown
and with much smaller blocks of 20, 30 and 40 rooms," Morrison
said. "We may have people housed as far as 16 miles away, but
we're looking to the next tier down in terms of level of
service to try to accommodate people closer."
General Conference is the church's top legislative
assembly, held once every four years to set policy for the
11.5 million-member denomination. The 2008 gathering is
scheduled for April 23-May 2.
Initially, organizers expected to book 1,500 rooms downtown
and within walking distance of the Fort Worth Convention
Center, where the assembly is being held. In addition to
accommodating the 1,000 delegates, they anticipated housing
hundreds of others downtown, including reserve delegates,
bishops and staff members for General Conference and church
Many others involved in the gathering––from choirs to
marshals and pages––make their own reservations and are
dealing with the same issues. The assembly also draws
thousands of United Methodists and other Christians from
throughout the world over the course of the 10-day event.
"We expect to see probably 5,000 to 7,000 people easily
coming through the Fort Worth Convention Center," said
Morrison. "At the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, the
bleachers seated 4,000 and they were filled to capacity during
the opening worship service."
The housing bureau for General Conference, which is
operated by the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau,
begins taking reservations from delegates on Jan. 22 via
phone, the Internet, fax or mail. Downtown reservations will
be booked on a first-come, first serve basis, but priority
will be given to international delegates as a matter of
"In all, roughly two-thirds of the delegates will be
downtown, including all the international delegates and half
of the U.S. delegates," said Morrison.
"It has been a perfect storm. The
hotel industry in Fort Worth is in total flux."
–The Rev. Alan J. Morrison
Members of the Council of Bishops, the highest ordained
leaders in the church, will be housed in the downtown
Renaissance Hotel, where they will hold their biannual meeting
prior to General Conference. Church agency staff booked
through the housing bureau will be placed in outlying
"People have been very gracious in this whole process,"
said Morrison, who has sent several e-mails to delegation
leaders to keep them abreast of the housing issues. "We've
received a number of e-mails thanking us for the work we're
doing on their behalf. They are holding us up in prayer as we
deal with all of these issues."
'A perfect storm'
The Commission on General Conference, which oversees the
assembly planning, initially identified a need for 1,200 rooms
in Fort Worth based on its peak needs at the Pittsburgh
assembly in 2004.
Because a number of delegations and other groups chose to
make their own reservations in Pittsburgh, the commission had
booked more rooms than needed there and ended up having to pay
a $100,000 contract penalty to one hotel. "But all those who
went out of our block last time sought to go in the block this
time, and that bumped up the number of rooms needed in Fort
Worth to 1,500," said Morrison.
The commission chose
Fort Worth in 2002 for the 2008 gathering and, at the time,
the outlook for accommodations was rosy. There were already
six downtown hotels with more than 1,500 rooms, and another
hotel (now the 600-room Omni Hotel project), adjacent to the
convention center, was in the planning stages.
When the Commission on
General Conference chose Fort Worth in 2002 for the 2008
gathering, the Omni and the Sheraton hotels were
scheduled to be open. A UMNS map courtesy of the Fort
Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Little by little, however, surprises and delays chipped
away at the room inventory.
The Omni project hit numerous delays and is now expected to
open in late 2008. The Hilton, formerly the Radisson, closed
one of its two towers and went from 500 rooms to 296 in 2006.
The former Clarion Hotel became Embassy Suites and went from
300 rooms to 156 suites.
Most disappointing, perhaps, was the Fort Worth Plaza,
which shut down for renovation in 2006 to reopen as the
Sheraton on Feb. 1 of this year. General Conference staff
contracted for 375 rooms there but learned just before
Christmas that the 435-room Sheraton would not reopen until
"Just in the two and a half years I've been in this
position, I've had three hotels that have changed flags and
changed the inventory of their rooms available––all of them
decreasing," said Morrison. Only the Courtyard by Marriott and
the Renaissance Hotel have stayed under contract with General
Conference with no changes.
Because of the hotel adjustments, the Commission on General
Conference will provide bus transportation from the outlying
hotels to the convention center each morning and then back
again each evening. This will add an additional expense to the
projected $6.6 million cost of the event, which includes $1.4
million for housing and food.
Representatives of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors
Bureau said they are working closely with conference
organizers to work out the kinks related to housing.
"We are experiencing growing
pains right now in Fort Worth, and we're making
–Heather Huhn, Fort Worth
Convention and Visitors Bureau
"The main thing is that this is not going to have a hugely
negative impact on the delegates," said Heather Huhn,
convention services manager. "In a convention, a hotel room is
used just for a few hours, then you're back in the heart of
downtown. When they're downtown, they're going to experience
true Fort Worth hospitality."
Huhn said her bureau has been working with other convention
planners addressing the same challenges this year in Fort
Worth. The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education,
Recreation and Dance, with 4,500 attendees and 1,500 rooms on
peak, is scrambling for rooms as well for its April 6-12
"We keep joking that this is not our first rodeo," said
Huhn. "We are experiencing growing pains right now in Fort
Worth, and we're making adjustments. But speaking with meeting
planners, I think they come out smiling on the other end. It
may not be quite the perfect picture expected initially, but I
think the planners we've been working with end up feeling very
pleased about the level of hospitality received."
The United Methodist assembly is considered a large
citywide convention, she said, but is unique because of its
10-day duration. Its total projected economic impact on Fort
Worth is about $12.4 million, according to the bureau.
While the hotel issue has been challenging, Morrison said
other logistical arrangements for General Conference are
progressing on schedule.
"General Conference is still going to happen in Fort Worth,
and I believe the Holy Spirit will be present and moving
amongst the body as we conduct the work of the church," he
*Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615)
742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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