The convention biz -- increasing space chasing shrinking conventions

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A friend forwarded this week's update from the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program, with links to lots of interesting articles about urban policy. The lead article is by Heywood Sanders, the nation's leading expert on the convention industry, and once again, Prof. Sanders has dared to compare the promises made by those promoting new and expanded publicly-owned convention centers to the actual numbers generated by these facilities. It's a declining industry, but cities persist in believing that convention centers will bring a return on investment. They don't.

Report Urges Caution on Convention Centers

In the last decade, state and local governments have made massive commitments to tourism and conventions, hoping to jumpstart local economies and boost downtowns. Unfortunately, this spending—some $2.4 billion per year nationally—may target a business in decline.

A new analysis by Heywood Sanders for the Metropolitan Policy Program shows that the convention and tradeshow business is ailing, that the decline began even prior to 9-11, and that a large number of new cities are entering the competition for these events. The upshot: As with stadiums and sports teams, state and local leaders should think carefully before making big bets on these facilities. Simultaneously, they should consider other options for scarce public funds, such as attracting and increasing residential life and 24-hour activity in business areas.

In that vein, several other recent program publications have also examined what works—and what doesn't work—in local and regional economic development. One discussion paper notes that the information technology revolution extends far beyond the technology sector to encompass not just tech companies in Sun Belt locales but all kinds of companies in "old" as well as "new" economy sectors. Similarly, another reportreviews how five smaller regions in Washington state have sought to broaden the impact of the 1990s tech boom beyond Seattle by investing in broadband infrastructure and linking local research institutions to the local economy.

By contrast, a more skeptical publication assesses the structure and nature of the biotechnology industry with an eye to local development prospects. The report concludes that the extreme concentration of the biotech industry and its high demand for capital, talent, and cutting-edge research make it a long-shot economic panacea for most regions.

As Christopher Leinberger, a key player in the resurgence of downtown Albuquerque, will show in an upcoming policy program publication: The most effective downtown and local economic revitalization strategies don't focus on a single venue, but rather on a holistic approach to development that includes arts and entertainment, housing, retail, restaurants, and a strong office economy.

Note that last item -- last night at the TulsaNow annual meeting, an urban planner commented that Tulsa's leaders seem to think that it's enough for downtown that we're building the arena, and no one is thinking about how Denver Avenue will develop, or what kind of development is needed to connect the arena to the Blue Dome district and the Brady district. TulsaNow's members are certainly thinking about the holistic approach, as are some sharp people in the city's urban development department, but it hasn't trickled up to the people who can make it happen.

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Last week, Michael Bates, citing this Brookings Institution report, said that convention centers aren't a cure-all for a city's ills: It's a declining industry, but cities persist in believing that... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 20, 2005 1:38 AM.

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