Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

Preface

City governments are usually viewed as providers of basic services: police and fire protection, public works, parks and recreation, and libraries. Yet cities and a broad array of other local governments are also providers of public capital. They have long built major public buildings such as city halls, courthouses, and libraries, and in some places public auditoriums and theaters. In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of communities began the development of new convention halls—New York City’s Coliseum, Cleveland’s Convention Center, Atlanta’s Civic Center, Baltimore’s Civic Center—as part of schemes for urban renewal or downtown revitalization.

Those early convention venues were succeeded and replaced by newer, larger, and presumably more competitive centers within a decade or two. New York City’s Coliseum was replaced by the new Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in 1986; Atlanta’s Civic Center, opened in 1967, was superseded by the new Georgia World Congress Center in 1976. The new Baltimore Convention Center was opened in summer 1979.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the public investment in new and expanded convention centers boomed, as other cities sought to compete with New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. And that boom continues, with state and local governments spending over $13 billion on center building between 2002 and 2011. The building boom has been driven in large part by a revolution in center finance, and by a new kind of public role and promise. Expansive new convention centers increasingly became the product of state governments or special purpose public authorities, neatly avoiding the political and fiscal limits on city governments.

At the same time, a massive convention facility was no longer simply a means of accommodating an occasional national political gathering or a symbol of local pride. It was touted as a key element in local “economic development,” one premised on the assumption, regularly validated by “expert”

-ix-

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Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Part I - The Race to Build 1
  • Chapter 1 - Building Boom 3
  • Chapter 2 - Paying for the Box 42
  • Chapter 3 - Promises and Realities 85
  • Chapter 4 - They Will Come… and Spend 124
  • Chapter 5 - Missing Impact 150
  • Part II - From Economics to Politics 209
  • Chapter 6 - Chicago- Bolstering the Business District 211
  • Chapter 7 - Atlanta- Enhancing Property Values 260
  • Chapter 8 - St. Louis- Protection from Erosion 341
  • Conclusion - The Cities Business Builds 430
  • Note on Sources 453
  • Notes 457
  • Index 501
  • Acknowledgments 513
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