Critics are warning that as cities nationwide continue expanding their convention centers to play to a bigger audience, the trend within the convention industry is to demand huge subsidies from host cities to land conventions. Some cities are no longer charging rent to conventioneers to offset the costs of operating their convention centers simply so the publicly-financed facilities don't sit empty. But that's not stopping the taxpayer-paid puppets whose strings are pulled by those profiting handsomely from Indianapolis' convention racket to sing the tune, "Bigger is Better."
. . . “We almost doubled the space, and we’ve been able to fill it with meaningful events,” said Barney Levengood, executive director of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. “It’s very, very encouraging.” . . .
Levengood isn’t the only one talking expansion. So is Visit Indy President Leonard Hoops.
Indeed, the two say the numbers demonstrate the need for an eventual expansion.
In early 2011, Visit Indy and the city’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns the convention center, raised the curtain on a $275 million, 400,000-square-foot expansion.
Combined with the 2008 opening of the adjacent Lucas Oil Stadium, the expansion rocketed the center from 32nd largest in the nation to 16th . . .
Trepidation about filling the center coming out of the Great Recession has given way to confidence as the economy grows . . .
Time needed for conventions to set up and tear down makes 100-percent occupancy impossible; 70 percent is considered a full house. In 2007 and 2008, before expansion construction began, the convention center’s occupancy ran at about 60 percent; last year, it was 54 percent . . .
In 2008, the facility hosted 42 national conventions; in 2014, it hosted 106. Attendance from those events grew from 317,815 in 2008 to 635,701 in 2014 . . .To his credit, Schoettle talked to a critic of these convention expansions who wondered just how much Indianapolis is paying to land big conventions. The critic noted what I've discussed previously on this blog about the Chicago Sun-Times' reporting on the massive public subsidies Chicago officials are now offering to lure big conventions to the Windy City. The Sun-Times uncovered the fact that Chicago officials had spent $27 million over a 3-year period to land conventions, and are now spending about $15 million annually for that purpose. "Indianapolis officials—for competitive reasons—declined to say what incentives they offer," Schoettle writes. Sigh. Hey, it's our money they're spending. Don't take no for an answer. Demand they provide the information or file a lawsuit to force its disclosure. Indianapolis taxpayers have a right to know how much of our money Visit Indy is spending annually to bribe organizations to host their conventions in Indianapolis.
Schoettle's story also notes that other cities that have expanded the size of their convention space have actually experienced a decline in use, including big cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas. The problem is that convention center space is rapidly growing, while demand for their use is remaining stagnant. But since we're spending other people's money, the CIB and Visit Indy have no qualms about borrowing more money and expanding the growing subsidies to Indianapolis' convention/hospitality/entertainment industries to the detriment of the rest of the city, which derives absolutely no value from more convention business. Why? Because the convention center pays no taxes, and taxes paid by new hotels and restaurants built within the downtown area are virtually all consumed by either the downtown TIF district or the CIB. Indianapolis taxpayers get stuck footing the bill, though, for increased public safety and infrastructure costs needed to support the free-loading industries that benefit from this massive public investment.