by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
There was an interesting piece in the Charlotte Observer yesterday about the Charlotte Convention Center, where the Democratic National Convention will be held next month. Like convention centers in many cities, Charlotte’s has not lived up to the promises that were made about its impact on the local economy. Despite predictions that the center would increase tax revenues by boosting visitor numbers, grow tourism, create job, and generally bolster the economy, the evidence suggests that the center has actually done just the opposite. It has, and continues to, cost Charlotte taxpayers millions of dollars.
In fact, there is no evidence that the city makes its Convention Center money back in new taxes from visitor spending. The city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the state may make as little as 35 cents for every dollar they spend on the convention business.
This has been the case from day one.
When the center opened in 1995, the results were disappointing. Instead of more than 500,000 hotel-room nights, the center booked 170,000 in its first full year in 1996.
The Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority (CRVA) has repeatedly had to revise its estimates both of visitor numbers and of visitor spending. Dramatically. And they often end up directly subsidizing events in order to attract the business, throwing good money after bad.
To land the American Bus Association’s annual trade show in 2009, for instance, the CRVA paid the group’s rent at the Convention Center, worth $136,000; it paid the group more than $200,000 to help sponsor ABA conventions in 2007 and 2008; it spent $100,000 on a party for the group at the Charlotte Motor Speedway; and it offered $125,000 on other expenses, including $8,000 in limo rides for convention VIPs.
Makes you wonder why the government insists on staying in the convention center business. Surely private venues could manage this better and without taking taxpayer money to do it.