WILDWOOD — The staff of the Wildwoods Convention Center spent six years wooing the Greater New Jersey United Methodist Annual Conference.
The effort paid off this year when the conference’s representatives opted to move their annual conference, formerly held at the Valley Forge Convention Center in Pennsylvania, to Wildwood.
“For several years we’ve been outside New Jersey, and it was really put in our hearts that we wanted to bring our business back to New Jersey,” a conference spokesperson said Tuesday.
The conference looked at several New Jersey locations and picked Wildwood for the three-day event that is expected to draw 1,500 people.
“The convention center offered a beautiful environment, and the staff has been very accommodating and very supportive,”the spokesperson said.
The annual conference is one of many new events on this year’s convention center schedule, a list that has grown steadily since the oceanfront building opened in 2002. That year, 141 events were held in the facility, compared with 246 in 2012, and in 2013 the number is expected to grow by another 17 events at least, said John Lynch, the center’s director of sales and entertainment.
That’s also up from 2001, the last year the old convention hall was in use, when 118 events were held in the since-demolished building.
Lynch said the addition of the Methodist conference is an example of how the center hopes to build its schedule and, in turn, add room nights and restaurant visits to the local economy.
According to the annual booking report, the center was open 246 days last year with 142 group bookings and more than $50 million in revenue and over 1 million dining opportunities in the Wildwoods.
In 2013, the schedule adds everything from the Cheer Tech Mid Atlantic National Championships, expected to draw 3,000 attendees, to wedding receptions.
In between, the schedule includes a Bank of America refinancing event, the board meeting of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and a gathering of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.
The center will also host its staple events such as the state firemen’s convention and the American Legion.
Lynch said the goal is to focus on the SMERF market, which stands for social, military, education, religious and fraternal.
The addition of the Methodist conference, he said, adds not only to the center’s schedule now but its credibility.
“We were able to bring an event that had been held outside New Jersey back to New Jersey. It’s huge for the state and for the Wildwoods Convention Center,” he said.
The economic impact of the conference is not yet known, but the three-day conference means hotel stays, dining opportunities and other revenue for the island and likely the county.
Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations for the center, said a strong booking calendar mean strong revenues from the island’s tourism tax, which brought in $1.54 million in 2003 compared with $1.73 million in 2012. The 2 percent sales tax also brought in $3.3 million in 2003 compared to just over $4 million last year.
The 2 percent tourism tax pays for a portion of the operations of the Wildwoods Convention Center while a separate 1.85 percent tax is split evenly between tourism marketing and promotion of the Wildwoods and to the three municipalities of the Wildwoods for beach maintenance.
The convention center has experienced steady growth while managing to retain existing events: It has a 96 percent retention rate.
“Once you get them here, you want to maintain them and keep them here,” he said.
The WWE is bringing its wrestling show back to the convention center this year, an event that wasn’t held in 2012 because of a scheduling problem.
Another returning event is the Harlem Globetrotters summer tour, something that was an experiment when it first started in 2011. Prior to that, the popular team did not play in the summer.
Rose said the new and returning events continue to build the center’s schedule and its value to the island.
“It’s looking like a good season,” he said.
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