Convention Center Follies
Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication
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City governments are usually viewed as providers of basic services: police and fire protection, public works, parks and recreation, and libraries. Yet cities and a broad array of other local governments are also providers of public capital. They have long built major public buildings such as city halls, courthouses...
Part I: The Race to Build
Chapter 1. Building Boom
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In 1982, Chicago’s McCormick Place stood at the apex of the nation’s convention centers. With 825,000 square feet of exhibit space in the main facility and another 330,000 square feet in nearby Donnelly Hall, it easily surpassed the convention halls of other cities. It routinely hosted the largest collection of...
Chapter 2. Paying for the Box
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The grand public convention halls of the 1920s and 1930s—Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, St. Louis’s Kiel Auditorium—were built by city governments and financed by city governments with general obligation debt. Those debts were backed by the “full faith...
Chapter 3. Promises and Realities
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Laying out a “long range” strategic plan for Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center in January 1990, consultant Charles H. Johnson described a vibrant and growing convention and tradeshow market. He noted that “facility space requirements have been growing at a rate of eight percent per year”...
Chapter 4. They Will Come…and Spend
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“Economic impact” has long been the central justification for local public investment in new and expanded convention centers; it is the substance of endless consultant studies, mayoral and gubernatorial press conferences, and banner headlines in the local press. Build it, and more convention and tradeshow...
Chapter 5. Missing Impact
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June Arney’s front page article in the June 2, 2002, Baltimore Sun, under the title “Baltimore Built It—They Didn’t Come,” brought home the striking gap between the predictions of a consulting firm, the promises of city and state officials, and the reality of convention center performance in a competitive...
Part II: From Economics to Politics
Chapter 6. Chicago: Bolstering the Business District
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When Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center opened in November 1960 as the “world’s greatest meeting place,” it represented a triumph over some 50 years of debate, conflict, and public failure. Chicago business and civic leaders had begun to promote a major new auditorium or convention...
Chapter 7. Atlanta: Enhancing Property values
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Atlanta’s development of a modern convention facility in the 1960s came at the political intersection of two broad development efforts. The first initiative sought to boost the city’s hotel and hospitality business and cement the city’s role as a regional center by attracting a growing volume of convention and...
Chapter 8. St. Louis: Protection from Erosion
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Writing to St. Louis Mayor A. J. Cervantes in March 1966, architect Arthur Schwarz announced, “our studies in connection with Union Station were looking ‘mighty good.’” Schwarz told Cervantes that his firm was making “a reasonably comprehensive study of convention centers, sports centers, merchandise...
Conclusion: The Cities Business Builds
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The contemporary boom in convention center building has been fueled and sustained by two substantive changes in local politics and finance. First, local public investment finance has been reshaped and reformed over the last three decades, structured to avoid any direct public votes or control over the commitment...
Note on Sources
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Page Count: 592
Illustrations: 3 illus.
Publication Year: 2014