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The St. Louis Region Needs to Consider No Longer Chasing Big Conventions

July 6, 2020 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy No Comments

We keep being told we need to expand our region’s primary convention center in order to compete with other cities for big conventions/conferences.

Looking South on 9th Street from Cole Street. The CVC can’t expand north, east, or south — so it now wants to close 9th to go West.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

The purpose of convention centers is to get outsiders to travel to a region, spending money on hotels & food — adding to the economy. The convention center facilities themselves are often a loss leader, they don’t make a profit or break even on their own but help bring warm bodies with cash to burn to a region.

The past few years attendance at conventions/conferences has been shrinking. The number of conventions have also been getting fewer and fewer. Then came COVID-19, cancelling the rest of 2020. The future of the big convention is seriously in doubt.  The big conventions that do continue will have their choice of top facilities. Even if we go for the latest expansion we won’t be in the top tier. The remaining smaller conventions & conferences will have their pick of hotel-based convention/conference facilities.

We need to say enough is enough. The current convention/dome occupies what was once 11+ city blocks!  A 12th block is a privately-owned parking garage that predates the Cervantes Convention Center.  Ballpark Village was only 3 city blocks originally.

Our mostly vacant convention facilities occupies the same space as four ballpark villages!

It’s absolutely insane to have this much prime downtown real estate sitting idle most of the year. Yes, when a huge convention is in town downtown is hoping. But what if these blocks, plus Baer Plaza & The Bottle District, were redeveloped?

Three North-South streets would again connect downtown to those of us who live immediately to the north, across Cole.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth streets would provide easy access, rather than having to go around a huge obstacle. Ninth street would remain open. Two East-West streets would also be reopened: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd & Convention Plaza (aka Delmar). The City-owned parking garage and parking lots on the West side of 9th could also be developed.

We would still need a tourism office and folks to help fill up various smaller convention/conference facilities throughout the region. They just wouldn’t be pressured to try to fill a huge white elephant.

To my knowledge, no city/region has had the courage to opt out of chasing conventions. We should be the first to do so, creating a neighborhood in its place that’s so vibrant that people from out of town want to visit.

— Steve Patterson

 

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