Convention Hotel Justification Built on Fiction
Kansas City Mayor Sly James has announced an effort, long discussed at City Hall, to subsidize a convention hotel downtown. Part of the justification for this expense is the need to attract more conventions to Kansas City, despite the fact that the convention industry is already crowded and in decline.
In Kansas City’s case, justification for this expense is also built upon a fiction. When the effort to bring the GOP convention to Kansas City fell apart last year, the Kansas City Star reported a local consultant urging coworkers on the convention bid to stay on message:
“Nothing negative,” one public relations consultant wrote. “The reason given for the decision should be a lack of downtown hotels. Period. Please stick to this messaging. . . . Let’s all take care of one another. We’re still a team.”
Reporter Dave Helling revisited this argument recently. In the email exchange, another person responded:
I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reminding us all to stick together. The only thing I would add is a lack of downtown hotels IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO THE CONVENTION SITE.
It appears everyone fell in line. In Helling’s story about Kansas City’s elimination from hosting the GOP convention, written as soon as the decision was announced and before he received the internal documents mentioned above, he wrote that there were several reasons being offered:
Kansas City’s relative lack of enough high-quality hotel rooms close to the Sprint Center.
The city’s potential struggle to raise $60 million for the event.
Poor rail transit.
That same story goes on to detail the politics included in the GOP’s decision, including this telling part:
“The competition was tough,” said Brenda Tinnen, chairwoman of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. “There are politics involved in these decisions. . . . I’m not sure that there was any one thing that said, ‘OK, this city is better than that city.’”
Tinnen is likely correct. There always are many reasons a convention does not come to a city. It is rarely the case, as some in Kansas City government want us to believe, that conventions are lost because of any one thing. But that is what we hear from the “team” of consultants, government officials, and public relations professionals.
Taxpayers should be wary. Such expensive decisions should be based on sound policy and economics, not a mere fiction promulgated by some on the convention “team” who write about the need to “take care” of one another—whatever that means.