City Journal scoffed at convention center expansions

Called the nationwide glut "gigantic"

San Diego Convention Center (Wikipedia image)
  • San Diego Convention Center (Wikipedia image)

By and large, political and economic conservatives pushed the San Diego Convention Center expansion plans through. They didn't read, or ignored, an article that appeared in City Journal in winter of last year. The magazine was published by the conservative Manhattan Institute.

The article's lead paragraph stated, "For two decades, American cities have used public dollars to build convention center space — far more than demand warranted. The result has been a gigantic nationwide surplus of empty meeting facilities, struggling convention centers, and vacant hotel rooms. Given the glut, you'd think that cities would stop. Instead, many are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand convention centers and open yet more dazzling hotels."

The magazine then noted that the private sector wouldn't touch such goofy investments.

City Journal pointed out that in 2007, before the Great Recession, the Destination Marketing Association International was already calling it "a buyer's market." Now it has gotten much worse. "In 2010, conventions and meetings drew just 86 million attendees, down from 126 million ten years earlier," said the publication. Over the same time, available convention space increased to 70 million square feet from 40 million two decades earlier.

It's madness. Did the San Diego corporate welfare beggars read this article? They ignored the warnings of Heywood Sanders, the nation's expert on centers, as quoted many times in the Reader. But there were other sources — the Wall Street Journal was another.

Comments

It's obvious that most hospitality business people do not read City Journal or the Reader, and have never heard of Heywood Sanders. So why ask the question?

dwbat: Anyone in the convention business who has not heard of Heywood Sanders does not belong in the business. He wrote the seminal study of convention center overbuilding for the Brooking Institution back in 2005. Now that the glut is far worse, he is writing an updated version.

Nationally, Sanders is THE expert on the business. Besides, industry trade groups repeatedly warn their members of the glut, and national publications such as the Wall Street Journal write about it, too. Since public money is used -- not private money -- people in the industry pay no attention. The hoteliers wouldn't put their own money in these white elephants, as Manhattan Institute pointed out. Best, Don Bauder

Don - the theives of the middle class, wait, what middle class? The corporate boobs who refuse to pay for their own businesses with their own high profits, using the sweat of the rest of us, should do the research.

shirleyberan: The reason pro sports owners get taxpayers to support their stadia is that these structures wouldn't pay for themselves. It's called OPM -- Other People's Money. Best, Don Bauder

The renowned organization is called the Brookings Institution (not "Brooking"). It took me about 20 seconds on Google to verify that. Now watch someone get steamed again.

dwbat: I erred. I have written about Brookings dozens of times. Blame fast typing. Incidentally, on the Filner blog, I caught you in another grammatical error. That's two recent ones that we know of, and if we go back, I am sure we can find more. Go check the one on the Filner blog, stop claiming you are perfect, and start concentrating on significant issues, if you are capable of understanding any. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I've got to quibble here, or at least explain a position I take. You refer to the convention center proponents as "political and economic conservatives", and I beg to differ. They may CALL themselves conservatives, and ally themselves with "conservative" causes, and even with the GOP, which I no longer regard as reliably conservative, but they definitely are not "conservatives." Both party labels and liberal vs. conservative labels just don't explain the behavior of folks at the local level. No true conservative would push for a government subsidized convention center that stands empty much of the time, has had to cut its rates, and loses money every year. Yet, Dougie and a flock of other proponents are considered conservatives in other political arenas.

You, sir, by pointing out this folly, and by years of opposing giveaways to tax money to rich businesses and their owners, are the true conservative.

If these boosters of pro sports, the convention center, and a host of other things that add glory (as they see it) to the city were adhering to conservative principles, they would be opposing the waste of scarce tax dollars, and demanding that they be spent on infrastructure, amenities available to all the residents of the city, and spent efficiently. They may have their bona-fides as supporters of state and national conservative causes, but where their own pocketbooks are concerned they are the worst of "crony capitalists", and little different from the machine politicians who run many US cities (and who are generally Democrats.)

Visduh: You make an excellent point -- one that I have made before. True conservatives do not believe in corporate welfare. I will give you a couple of examples. The Union-Tribune through the years has worshipped the Heritage Foundation, fount of conservative doctrine. Heritage has steadily opposed corporate welfare, including the building of stadiums for billionaire team owners. I have often quoted Heritage economists who strongly oppose using public money for sports stadia.

Another example: Cato Institute has a libertarian bent. It opposes corporate welfare. Conservative dogma should be opposed to corporate welfare.

But there is a problem here. Increasingly under corporate law (as formed by Delaware courts), the shareholder is supposedly the only constituency of the board of directors. Ergo, a company could be sued by its shareholders if it DID NOT try to get as much money from a third party -- government -- as possible. Again, this is not consistent with conservatism. The labels mean nothing these days.

You make excellent points. Best, Don Bauder

Could we get a Referendum on the ballot forcing the Convention Center to be sold? That would flush the ambitions of the Real Estate Mafia right down the toilet.

John Kitchin: Trouble is, who would buy it? The private sector is too smart to take on a white elephant. The San Diego convention center is slashing its prices 50% and more because of the national glut of space. Would anybody rational buy something that had to slash its prices 50% to survive in a glut of space? Best, Don Bauder

A voter referendum mandating sale would force the City to sell for whatever price, perhaps at auction, it can get. This would prove to the voters its worthlessness all along. The City would still get hotel revenues from whoever owned it, as it could not be easily moved elsewhere.

John Kitchin: Yes, it would be interesting -- and enlightening -- if it were put up for auction and there were no bidders. Best, Don Bauder

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