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

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Paying for the Box

The grand public convention halls of the 1920s and 1930s—Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, St. Louis’s Kiel Auditorium—were built by city governments and financed by city governments with general obligation debt. Those debts were backed by the “full faith and credit” of a city government, effectively the full stock of property and other tax revenues available to the city. And under state laws in these states and the vast majority of others, general obligation debt had to be approved by a majority of the local electorate.

Cleveland’s Public Auditorium was approved by the city’s voters in 1916 and finally completed in 1922. But when voters were presented with a scheme for financing and developing a new convention center in 1957 and 1958, they turned it down both times. Finally, in 1960, a smaller, restructured convention center scheme won voter approval. That center was supposed to vault Cleveland to the front rank of convention cities. As of 1981, it was still ninth largest in the United States.

When, after some twenty years of use, the center required improvements and refurbishing, in 1985 Mayor George Voinovich chose to invest some $28 million without asking the voters to decide. The city issued notes, largely financed by the Greater Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau through the bureau’s receipt of countywide hotel taxes, that avoided both a public vote and the limits of the city’s fiscal circumstances.

Cleveland’s business and political leaders repeatedly sought to develop an entirely new downtown convention center, beginning in the late 1990s. They ultimately chose a scheme in 2007 that neatly avoided the city government and its ongoing financial problems. Instead, the initiative for the convention center and a “Medical Mart” trade mart came from the overlying Cuyahoga

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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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