Trade Show Leaders Fire Back at Brookings Report on Convention Center ‘Realities.’

MARIA LENHART, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
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Torrance, CA – The recent Brookings Institution report by Heywood Sanders entitled, “Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers Economic Development Strategy,”   is drawing a heated response throughout the convention and trade show industry.  Sanders, a Professor of Public Policy Administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, asserts in the  report that convention centers and convention hotels are all too often a waste of public funds. (For TSE’s summary of the report and a link to the full report, see Trade Show Executive magazine, March 2005, p. 12 and www.tradeshowexecutive.com “News Online” and “The Vault.”)

Among those leading the charge against the report is the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, which has issued a general press release and white paper refuting most of Sanders’ conclusions. “We feel there is potential damage as the report has been getting a lot of coverage in the non-industry press,” said CEIR President & CEO Doug Ducate. “Business leaders are getting a very one-sided view of things. Our goal with the white paper is to create a tool for people in the industry to have intelligent discussion.” Ducate says the Brookings report was based on a inappropriate sample of events and time frame,  and thus skewed the conclusions to a select group of shows  instead of the universe of exhibitions.  Ducate’s strong rebuttal is posted at www.ceir.org and can assist facility managers and convention bureau executives in refuting Sanders’ flawed logic.

Also taking umbrage, the International Association of Exhibition Management has posted a detailed rebuttal written by IAEM President Steven Hacker on its organization’s Web site (go to www.iaem.org). According to Hacker, “The author’s (Sanders’) contention that cities would be well advised to forego any further investment in urban redevelopment projects such as convention center and entertainment facilities is, at the very least, disturbing.”

For some convention bureau executives, dealing with fallout from the report has become part of the job. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have to respond to the Brookings Institution report,” says Steve Moore, President & CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau The buzz engendered by the report has made Moore profoundly grateful that Phoenix’s convention center expansion is already approved and underway. “If this report had come out a year ago, it could have stymied our efforts,” he says.

In Minneapolis, where a feasibility study for a convention headquarters hotel has just been completed, opponents to the project are using the Brookings report as ammunition, according to Greg Ortale, President & CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re submitting the report and our rebuttal to it to our board of directors, so they can form their own conclusions,” he said.

Similarly, trade show marketing consultant Charles Allen, President of the C.W. Allen Group in Birmingham, AL, says the report could possibly jeopardize state funding for a planned multi-purpose convention center in Birmingham. Allen, a passionate proponent of the project, said he has been busy speaking to the local media and public officials in an effort to refute the report and argue the case for the facility.

“The political pit bulls are looking at this report and using it for their own ends,” he commented.