The Atlantic Cities published an article Monday arguing that convention centers often fail to live up to expectations. The problem, according to the article, is that there are more and more convention centers but fewer and fewer conventions:
Over the last 20 years, convention space in the United States has increased by 50 percent; since 2005, 44 new convention spaces have been planned or constructed in this country alone.
But there’s a problem with this building bonanza, and it’s a doozy: There aren’t really enough conventions to go around. The actual number of conventions hosted in the U.S. has fallen over the last decade. Attendance at the 200 largest conventions peaked at about 5 million in the mid-1990s and has fallen steadily since then.
These buildings are proliferating, the article argues, for the same reasons Utah County recently constructed a center in Provo: convention centers are seen as ways to generate revenue and bring people into downtown. But the article also notes that with greater competition “smaller” cities — in this case places like Cleveland or Buffalo — get squeezed out. Obviously, that doesn’t bode well for even smaller cities like Provo.
In fact, nothing in the article offers much hope for Provo. The title of the article even rhetorically asked “is it time to stop building convention centers?” and later in the day Richard Florida answered via twitter:
Provo obviously already has a convention center, so the debate has necessarily moved on. In light of this article, however, it might be worth tempering our expectations about the impacts of the Utah Valley Convention Center.
We’d also be wise to glean any available information on how to make the convention center productive. For example,
But it also means attention to smaller details: making sure your center has fast wireless internet is a big one; so are connected hotels (“you can have a great convention center with a lot of space,” Gregg says. “But if you don’t have the hotel inventory then it’s really kind of wasted”). Some convention centers brag about the number of public toilets they have available; others highlight the hot local snack food on offer.
City and county leaders are already trying to make the convention center productive by courting hotels and other businesses. But I can’t say I’m overly optimistic; installing a convention center in the first place wasn’t a particularly creative idea, and information like that in the article has been available in the past. In other words, local leaders are going to have to rise to a level of creativity that they haven’t hit in the past if they’re going to make the Utah Valley Convention Center the economic engine it’s supposed to be.