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 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.