Hate to say I told you so

But hey, I told you so. Yours truly, May ’11:

Convention business isn’t exactly booming, and the grisly pas de deux of government policies and energy prices insures that the nation’s once-vaunted mobility is trampled underfoot: whether by design or merely by default, travel is rapidly becoming as inconvenient and as expensive as is humanly possible. There will always be some convention business, but it’s going to be confined to the handful of top-tier cities with which we already arguably fail to compete. If it is deemed necessary to remind the rest of the nation that Oklahoma City actually exists, a quarter of a billion dollars would buy a hell of a lot of Kevin Durant backpacks.

The Wall Street Journal, October ’12:

The nation’s slow-growing economy has hurt attendance. With budgets tight, companies and associations aren’t holding as many conventions or sending as many employees or members to them. And a glut of convention space has sharpened the competition among cities.

Between 2000 and 2011, convention-center exhibit-hall space expanded by 35% nationally while attendance fell 1.7% in the same time, said Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and an expert on convention centers. Attendance is down 5% since 2007.

Yet we’re going to spend $280 million (or so) on trying to get a bigger piece of a smaller pie. Dr Sanders knows why:

He blames cities’ hired consultants, who he said predict “all these people are going to come and do wonderful things to your economy.”

As they did here in the Big Breezy for Roy Williams and the OKC Chamber:

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber commissioned a study [in 2009] to determine how much convention space the city needs. The results showed the Cox Convention Center to be inadequate. Worse still, the building is landlocked by major streets and can’t be expanded. The Cox Convention Center brings in an estimated $30 million a year to the local economy, including $10 million in salaries and 400 jobs, Williams said.

“Essentially the new convention center would triple that,” Williams said. “The impact would go up to nearly $80 million. Salaries and wages would go to about $30 million and employment would go to 1,100.”

Unless, of course, they don’t, as Dr Sanders predicts:

“But the problem is they aren’t coming anymore, because there are lots of other convention centers … that desperately want that business,” he said.

We are, of course, going to build this monstrosity. I just hope they’ll come up with a more plausible justification for it: the elevation of civic pride, the desire for shiny new stuff, the ability to attract a higher class of hookers — anything but actual return on investment. Because that’s not happening.



  1. JT »

    14 October 2012 · 8:37 pm

    San Antonio built the Alamodome umpteen years ago (first concert in the venue was Paul McCartney, where I got 5th row seats :) ) using a bunch of taxpayer bonds, ostensibly to attract an expansion NFL team. What any normal sports fan could have told them was that San Antonio will never have an NFL team because the Dallas Cowboys get too many fans from San Antonio and they would block any attempt at killing off that revenue stream. We did have a CFL team one year before the league decided to move back within Canada, but that’s about it. There was talk about trying to get a MLBaseball team but would require a new stadium because the Alamodome wasn’t built to handle baseball as well. So, the place hosts the once a year bowl game, and we now actually have a local university that uses it for their football games (at least, until they figure out a way to get the students and alumni to pay for yet another stadium. Oh yes, our convention center got the same giant expansion treatment, just like most other cities.

  2. McGehee »

    14 October 2012 · 9:08 pm

    Newnan — population somewhere around 35,000 — is going to build a convention center.

    I don’t know what the city’s going to do when they discover there’s a much bigger city less than an hour’s drive away, and much closer to the airport.

  3. Roxeanne de Luca »

    14 October 2012 · 10:11 pm

    Nothing against your state (although I must say, I detest driving through it), but who the heck goes to Oklahoma City for a convention? Is it easy and inexpensive to get direct flights there from all parts of the country? Is the weather exceptionally nice at certain times of the year? Is it easy to get from the airport to the convention centre without renting a car? Are there nice, inexpensive hotels? Fun things to do in the area (like golfing)?

    Again, nothing against OKC, but if I were hosting a convention in that part of the country, I would pick a bigger city or one with nicer golf courses.

    Segueing back into convention consultants: they don’t think anyone will pay them to say, “What you have right now is giving you the best possible ROI, unless you want to convince five major airlines to fly direct and cheap to your city, get six hotel chains to upgrade what they have, get a nice golf course, improve your nightlife, and overhaul public transit.”

  4. CGHill »

    14 October 2012 · 10:18 pm

    Accommodations are gradually improving around here. Twenty years ago there were maybe 300 hotel rooms downtown. Today we’re approaching 2000.

    Nightlife, mostly in proximity to those hotels, is booming.

    However, we could use a couple more airlines, and public transit around here is somewhere between marginal and nonexistent.

  5. fillyjonk »

    15 October 2012 · 10:53 am

    I don’t know much about nightlife. But I will say that of the (scientific) conferences I’ve been to, I much preferred the ones set on a college campus, where the cafeteria stayed open for the cheapskates (like me) who didn’t have expense accounts to dine on. The ones I’ve been to in city centers – well, cities are expensive to begin with but I was kind of disgusted when, after I had arrived a day before a conference, I saw restaurants summarily raising their prices and reducing their offerings when they knew the out-of-towners were due in. Oh, I’m sure that’s’ “just business,” but still, I found it kind of disgusting.

    It seems to me that the businesses in college towns are less likely to gouge people in for meetings, at least in my experience.

  6. Roger Green »

    15 October 2012 · 11:39 pm

    Oh, I stole your article: http://blog.timesunion.com/rogergreen/okc-buying-into-the-convention-center-kool-aid/3101/

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