Thursday 17 July 2014

Convention Centre Madness

Convention Centre Economics is about as bad as Stadium Economics. It just gets less airtime because people are more interested in sports.

The best you can usually hope for is that there might be some private matching funding and that the site is developed so that it isn't an urban deadzone whenever a convention isn't on. If you can manage to get a private sector outfit willing to fund it, it's usually because of sidepayments on other margins, like casino concessions.

So what happens when a private firm really seems willing to put up its own money to build a convention centre? City Council still wants to run its own one using taxpayer money, because the private one might not be big enough to attract really large international conventions and, because it's not right where Council would want it, might not provide as many spillover benefits.

Chris Hutching over at NBR (gated) has the story.* Alastair Porter wants to open a convention centre near the Queenstown airport, called "Remarkables Park". He wants to target smaller Australasian conventions, noting the pretty saturated market for the big international ones. He's lodged the consents to get started. Queenstown Council wishes instead to have a bigger venue downtown to anchor a retail, hotel and entertainment district.

Queenstown accountant Duncan Fea is quoted in support of the Council proposal, saying simultaneously that it will hurt the central business district because of the airport location and that, because it's at the airport, there will be logistical difficulties in getting attendees to and from downtown hotels. I'd have thought that conventioneers staying downtown and catching a shuttle would have given downtown Queenstown the best of both worlds: a centre they don't have to pay for, evening traffic from conventioneers, and no big deadspot downtown when there isn't a convention on.

I'd also have thought that Queenstown would have been a tough venue for big international conventions anyway because anybody going there needs to connect from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland. It's a beautiful spot, but it's a hop away only from places that already have, or are planning to have, ridiculously big convention facilities for international conferences.

I can't get how anybody's calculations would lead them to conclude you get higher net benefits for a downtown convention centre that you have to pay for than from one near the airport, whose visitors stay downtown anyway,** and that, critically, you don't have to pay for.

Does Queenstown really want to *punch* a gift-horse in the mouth?

Update: If it's really the case that everything would be so much the awesomer for downtown businesses with a downtown convention centre, Duncan Fea should start a PledgeMe drive among local businesses to fund it. If it's as great as he's claiming, they'll all be really keen to do it.

* You really should subscribe to get the whole story, and their other great coverage.

** And, even if the site did put up hotels, who the heck wouldn't spend some tourist-time in Queenstown while there?

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