Cities Fight Over Shrinking Convention Pie

Despite a dramatic decline in the number of, and attendance at, conventions nationwide, cities across America are investing their limited resources in building and upgrading convention centers. Fred A. Bernstein explores the irony.
May 16, 2012, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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It seems as though cities across America, large and small, haven't received the message about the precipitous decline in the nation's convention business. According to Bernstein, "In the last year alone, Indianapolis and Philadelphia have opened sprawling new centers, while plans for such facilities are being floated in Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston...It's much the same in smaller cities: Spokane's convention center, enlarged only six years ago, is being readied for a new, $60 million expansion."

So what gives? "Loren G. Edelstein, editor of Meetings and Conventions magazine, says that 'while a convention center itself might not be making money,' it may be paying for itself with revenue the facility brings to the city in other ways."

"But such claims are difficult to prove. Critics like Professor Sanders believe the convention center boosters are making a buyer's market-in which supply now far outstrips demand-even more unbalanced. Though the decline in attendance began before 2008, he says, 'the recession worsened an already bad situation.'"


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Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in Architectural Record
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