What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
— Vincent van Gogh
It’s especially meaningful that this year’s TEDxSalem conference — the theme of which is “fearless” — is being held at the Salem Convention Center.
Why? Fear very nearly prevented a conference center from coming to downtown Salem at all.
Specifically, the fear that such a venture would fail.
The convention center opened with great fanfare and a ribbon-cutting in 2005.
But in the decades leading up to that moment, developers and city officials alike had tried and failed and tried again to bring a hotel and convention center to Salem’s downtown.
There was the proposed Hilton Hotel and convention center in 1976 that would have cost an estimated $21 million. But the developer struggled to find financial backers and ultimately cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was talk of a riverfront convention center, a downtown civic space and even a golf course. A developer in the 90’s proposed a $27.7 million conference center and hotel, only to be rejected by the City Council.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that city officials began working with the company behind the Phoenix Inn to bring a hotel and convention center to the space. A $32 million center was approved in 2003 under Mayor Janet Taylor.
But fears about the project — its size, scale, cost, what it promised the community, even what it looked like — continued to run rampant. Citizens were worried about the size and the design. Business owners expressed concerns over its impact to the downtown economy. And some city officials agonized over whether or not it was a wise investment.
When the center opened in 2005, even its strongest supporters acknowledged it would likely lose money in its first few years.
Instead, the center hosted 284 events and 45,000 people in its first 10 months alone.
Since then, the center has played host to elaborate dinners, elegant fundraisers, farewell parties for city dignitaries, national conferences and local high school reunions.
And this fall, we’re thrilled that the center will be hosting TEDxSalem 2015.
It was a fearless few who made the center a reality. This October, let’s celebrate that.