Friday, June 26, 2009


It's slightly off-topic for this blog, but I ran across this Next American City piece questioning the value of convention centers yesterday. Today, the Chronicle Comical offered up its coincidental press release on expansion plans for Moscone Center.

Compare and contrast after the jump

On the contributions of convention centers:
The story of convention centers is that, for all cities do to distinguish themselves, the convention industry treats cities not as places but rather as spaces — fungible, interchangeable and characterless. -NAC
Tourism is San Francisco's largest industry, drawing 16.1 million visitors and convention participants who spent $8.2 billion in the city during 2007, according to the most recent bureau estimates available. -Chron
On expansion plans:
Despite the steady increase in nationwide square footage ... attendance at many convention centers, including the mighty McCormick Place and New York’s Javits Center, declined markedly from 1996 to 2003. ... With fixed footprints, [convention centers] generally cannot downsize, and as wholly owned subsidiaries of urban America, they cannot outsource. Their chief solution, then, is to expand. -NAC
"We're at capacity, basically, and we need to be able to expand in order to not just keep our existing business but to grow for the future," said Joe D'Alessandro, chief executive officer of the [San Francisco Convention and Visitors] bureau. -Chron
On the underlying reasons for expansion:
These consultants usually work for quasi-public convention and visitors bureaus. Part bureaucracy, part marketing firm and part real estate developer, these agencies operate with single-minded attitudes toward increasing attendance and, at regular intervals, commandeering public funds to expand and upgrade their spaces to attract major events and out-of-town visitors. -NAC
A preliminary proposal would replace three buildings east of the main convention area with several mixed-use towers in a public-private partnership ... said Dan Kelleher, chairman of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau's Moscone Center expansion task force. ... Kelleher, who is also general manager of the San Francisco Marriott, put the earliest completion date at 2017. -Chron
On funding the expansions:
[Convention centers'] downtown-edge locations and low profiles help them avoid the ire of neighbors, and their funding mechanisms — bonds or, more likely, hotel taxes — mean that local taxpayers do not directly bear capital costs. -NAC
The particulars are far from finalized, but in broad terms the property owners would bear the cost of an underground connection to Moscone South as well as the towers themselves, in exchange for city approvals for the large, mixed-use project, Cohen of the mayor's office said. The aboveground buildings also would include housing, office and retail.

Another funding source would be the Tourism Improvement District, which extracts a 1 to 1.5 percent tax on room revenue for all hotels within the city -Chron
On possible opposition:
Because they play nearly no role in a city’s indigenous culture, convention centers are ignored by would-be activists and watchdogs who might speak up if it were clear that funds that could have gone to, say, schools were going to a convention center instead. -NAC
Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the area that includes Moscone Center, said he didn't know enough about the proposal to comment. Two candidates running to fill his District 6 seat, Debra Walker and Jim Meko, expressed at least lukewarm backing for the plan.

"Depending on details, I support anything that creates more jobs in San Francisco and helps our economy," said Walker, a building inspection commissioner.

Meko, chairman of the Western SoMa Planning Task Force, called the convention center the "economic engine for South of Market" and said he wasn't opposed as long as the expansion didn't creep west past Fifth Street. -Chron

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