Convention Centers Cost Taxpayers

Yesterday’s article about Steve Stanek’s presentation to the McHenry County College Board concentrated on how baseball stadiums are money losers for taxpayers. Today’s is about convention centers.

Much the same is true for convention centers. I bring this up because of the talk of possibly combining a baseball stadium with a convention or arts center. This melds two losing ideas into one.

Earlier this year, for instance, The Washington Post wrote about the Washington Convention Center. This is from the article:

“Nearly four years ago, city officials opened the $850 million Washington Convention Center with a string of superlatives . . . [L]ast year hotel convention bookings missed projections by 13 percent. Bookings are likely to fall short of projections by 24 percent this year and 29 percent next year.”

Here’s what Steven Malanga says about convention centers. He is senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a public policy research organization in New York City:

“For more than a decade now, cities and counties have been rushing, at enormous public cost, to build new convention centers or add space to old ones . . . The increase in space has vastly outpaced the growth of the convention industry and often failed to generate the kind of economic activity predicted by boosters. Rather than energizing local economies, in fact, some convention centers are emerging as a drag on civic finances, requiring taxpayer operating subsidies on top of their huge, publicly financed construction costs. What’s more, the situation is only likely to get worse.”

Convention centers do have defenders – nearly all of them paid by local economic development corporations, tourism bureaus or other organizations that have a stake in defending these centers. Among researchers who don’t have financial ties to such organizations, there is almost no defense.

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