Finding Money for the Convention Center

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The Convention Center Authority convened a panel of the city’s great and the good some months ago to determine if it should go forward with an expansion plan that included a publicly subsidized 1,000 room hotel. It floated a trial balloon over the weekend regarding that hotel and the response has not been great.

The BBJ’s Craig Douglas does a back-of-the-envelope calculation and comes up with 1,350 privately-supplied hotel rooms in various states of planning and development. He notes that these projects, all under the leadership of various well-connected developers, are experiencing some sort of delay and questions how an additional 1,000 rooms (all benefiting from a public subsidy) improves the situation.

I take a different tack in examining the issue — the Convention Center Authority claims it may need a $200m subsidy. Yet, it kicked $65m to the state for general spending in FY09, and is committed to kicking in another $5m in the upcoming budget year. It was able to chip in $1m for the Tall Ships Festival and lend out $18m in a highly unusual (and speculative) lending transaction to a private party that wants to redevelop the Tea Party ship. So, that’s $89m in apparently ‘excess’ cash that the Authority has (or will) passed out over the past few years. And now it wants a subsidy?

I’ll be curious to see if the T5 Partnership asks the tough questions about this plan or if it rubberstamps the proposal.