But while the supply of convention space has been going through the roof, the demand for that space hasn't come close to keeping up. According to the industry publication TradeShow Week, attendance at conventions and trade or consumer shows plummeted from 126 million in 2000 to just 86 million in 2010. (TradeShow Week ceased publication last year.) The market is hopelessly overbuilt. Earnings are weak. In some cities, convention halls are literally giving space away. It doesn't take an economic savant to recognize that in such an environment, it is folly to keep building.
Unfortunately, economic sense vanishes when politicians and their tourism-industry friends -- and the consultants they hire to cheer themselves on -- start clamoring for yet another money-losing new facility to be subsidized with still more public dollars.
The strongest evidence that Boston has no need of an even bigger convention center is that the private-sector isn't building one. If entrepreneurs don't see a sound economic rationale for investing in a new facility, the odds are excellent that no such rationale exists. And if the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center was a bad idea at 516,000 square feet, at twice the size it will be even worse.
When the BCEC opened in 2004, state officials bragged about all the private hotel development it would lead to. "Boom Time for Boston Hotels," the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority crowed in a lavish ad. "When a Convention Center Comes to Town, Hotels Are Sure to Follow."
But the hotels didn't follow, doubtless for the same reason the convention center never generated the volume of business the consultants had predicted: The demand just isn't there. Yet rather than acknowledge being wrong, officials blame the convention center's weak performance on the lack of hotels. And as if confusing cause and effect isn't bad enough, now they are campaigning not only to double the convention-center's capacity with tax funds, but to force taxpayers to subsidize the construction of 1,000 new hotel rooms as well -- hotel rooms for which there is no measurable demand.
The whole thing is such an outrageous racket. Once again the politicos will expand their empire. Once again crony capitalism will enrich a handful of wired business operators. And once again Joe and Jane Taxpayer will pay through the nose. How many times must we see this movie before we finally shut it off?
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