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

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
They Will Come… and Spend

“Economic impact” has long been the central justification for local public investment in new and expanded convention centers; it is the substance of endless consultant studies, mayoral and gubernatorial press conferences, and banner headlines in the local press. Build it, and more convention and tradeshow attendees will come to a city by the tens or hundreds of thousands. Those attendees will stay in local hotels for multiple nights, as well as spending their dollars for meals, entertainment, and retail purchases. The promise of that additional visitor spending is typically measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The 2003 forecast for an expansion of Philadelphia’s convention center amounted to $133 million more each and every year, from 519, 000 additional nonlocal attendees. Those new dollars, in turn, will be respent by local hotel employees, restaurant workers, and cab drivers. That spending, directly by convention attendees and indirectly by those benefited by convention spending, will in turn yield thousands of new jobs, and new development as well. The new-job creation for the Philadelphia center’s expansion was put at 2, 320. And every new visitor dollar would also generate new revenue for Philadelphia and the state government, primarily in terms of increased hotel taxes, sales taxes, and employee wage taxes.1

The argument for convention center “economic impact” has been stated over and over by center consultants and public officials. Take the case of Washington’s new convention center. Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives District Subcommittee in July 1998, Chair Linda Cropp of the District of Columbia City Council proclaimed that the direct spending generated by an expanded Washington Convention Center would amount to $618 million in the center’s first year, growing to $776 million by its fifth year. She went on to say, “This is business the city desperately needs to increase

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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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