The Wilmington StarNews editorial board wrote hopefully about attracting larger gatherings at the two-year old city convention center: throngs of conventioneers will appear if only a hotel is built next door. (link) Two nearby hotels won’t do because, apparently, people can’t walk a block to the center. It’s understandable. Our weather is so severe and unpredictable that who would chance it?—not to mention the downtown crime problem.
It’s rumored that the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce suggested a “green” solution to help save the planet: set up cots at the center for attendees to sleep over. I guess that didn’t fly.
Anyway another hotel probably won’t make much difference, assuming anyone is foolish enough to risk building one. Wilmington officials should have learned from other conventional wisdom, but they don’t seem capable.
Michael Lowrey, associate editor of the Carolina Journal, reports on Charlotte’s convention center. Promoters estimated that it would attract 528,000 hotel room-nights per year—the Charlotte Observer reporters estimated actual numbers of 142,000. Mr. Lowrey writes that the “convention center market is awash with capacity.” Who knew? (link, pg. 11)
Not only did the Charlotte Convention Center get a meager 35 percent use (in 2011), but big spenders didn’t show up as projected. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority assumed that each conventioneer would spend $314 per day of attendance.
Lowrey says that the Charlotte center attracts mostly “SMERFs”: social, military, educational, religious and fraternal groups. Typically, these people share rooms, don’t stay long and don’t spend much on food. For example, the Authority estimated a Shriner’s convention would bring in nearly $25 million; $6-10 million was more realistic, according to the Observer.
And, get this; the Visitor’s Authority “wants to subsidize the construction of a big new hotel near the convention center,” writes Lowrey.
It’s been said: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Why is it that so many are elected to public office and promote government projects? One reason: when you can spend other people’s money with little accountability, risk on the basis of false hope and illusion is acceptable.
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