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

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

PART II
From Economics to Politics

The contemporary boom in convention center building has its roots in the post-World War II efforts by cities to redevelop, renew, and revitalize their downtown cores and inner cities. Some cities sought to build a civic auditorium or convention hall that had long been blocked by political conflict or voter disapproval. Others sought to burnish their economic competitiveness or central role. For others, the initiative to construct a new convention facility began as an effort to reposition an underused railroad station or boost the prospects for new private development and investment.

The case studies that follow, of Chicago, Atlanta, and St. Louis, all share the reality that local organized business interests played the central role in developing, promoting, and ultimately realizing a new or expanded convention center. They also share a common focus on the most central business purpose—shaping, reshaping, and defining land values and development potential. That common focus in turn reflected two specific objectives. First, restructuring the role and value of specific downtown or downtown fringe locations, either through eliminating an undesirable use or population, or by “anchoring” a particular development project. Second, shaping the expectations about land use and locational potential. Business leaders regularly described the imperative for “momentum,” providing investors “with a better feeling,” and giving “our place of business a major shot in the arm.” The fundamental goal of these businessmen was, in the words of St. Louisan Howard F. Baer, a longtime member of the Civic Progress Inc. group, “a determination that downtown shall not disappear.”1

For all the public rhetoric about the convention “pot o’ gold” and the

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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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