The Answer Is Always Yes

It's coming.
It will be big; very
It will be expensive.
And you can be sure it will happen. Neatly listed
among the "program changes" in the City's proposed fiscal 2007 budget is a
$100,000 item: "Increase Funding for Convention Center Expansion Study."

proposed is a study to "determine the logistics and feasibility of the
Convention Center expansion and make it possible for the city to attract more
convention business."

$100,000 will presumably pay for a glossy consultant study, filled with charts
and graphs, assessing the state of convention-hosting in San Antonio and the
city's future prospects.

For City
Hall-watchers, the timing of a convention-center expansion study might appear a
bit curious.
After all, the City just issued bonds for a new 1,000-room hotel,
now rising on Market Street and nestled next to the convention center that was
sold and built on the promise of boosting San Antonio's convention business.
study of center expansion in 2007 would be done even before the hotel opens in
early 2008, so the $100,000 study couldn't possibly assess the impact of the
hotel, let alone the city's convention prospects.
Indeed, it should take a
year or two after the new hotel opens to see how it performs, and what impact
it has on the convention center's business and the larger downtown hotel

But the
outcome and findings of the proposed $100,000 study are effectively already
underway - back in 2004, when the City refinanced the debt used to pay for the
last convention-center expansion, the plans were already set in motion.

Among the
projects included in the 2004 bond issue (along with funds for the Alamodome)
was an item of about $11 million, for the "acquisition of an office building in
the vicinity of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center presently owned by the
San Antonio Water System."
That refers to the old SAWS headquarters between
Commerce and Market streets, across from the convention center, now vacated for
the new SAWS office complex on 281 at Mulberry.

So, why
would the city be using convention-center bonds to buy an office building?
City was quite direct in what it told the bond market and the bond-rating
agencies in 2004: "The current plan for the Convention Center complex provides
for site acquisition for future expansion."
That center expansion would bridge
Market Street and fill up the site of the former SAWS headquarters.

officials were also apparently quite clear in 2004 about when the new expansion
would take place: one of the bond rating agencies reported that plans involved
"a prospective expansion of the center around 2010."

It is
possible that things have changed since 2004, with a new city council, a new
mayor, and a new city manager. But a glance again at the City's proposed budget
for the 2007 fiscal year shows an item for $955,000 labeled "future convention
center expansion" that will pay for "the purchase of real property and other
expenses related to the future expansion of the Convention Center."
expansion is a done deal.

So why lay
out $100,000 for a study of a project that is a sure thing? No one at City Hall
really wants a "study" that seriously assesses the convention market.
Professor Phyllis Kaniss of the University of Pennsylvania concluded in her
book Making Local News, these
studies help sell big projects to an often skeptical public, with city
officials shaping local media coverage "knowing that journalists would view the
consultant as an 'independent' third party."
Thus, what our $100,000 will buy
is a glossy, well-produced report and stirring Powerpoint presentation,
complete with tales of how San Antonio is already a great convention
destination on the verge of further greatness, how all of our competitors are
building new and bigger convention centers, and how this public investment will
yield thousands of new visitors, millions of dollars in new spending, and a
windfall of new tax revenues.

The only
real question is: Which consulting firm will get to tell us how much we need a
bigger center? We might just hire the firm that told New Braunfels it really
needed a convention center, and that its new center, now under construction,
would bring thousands of visitors, millions of dollars in additional spending,
and a windfall of new tax revenues.
That would be the firm that just told the
city of Midland that a new convention center would bring in $8.7 million in
additional spending each year, and create 237 new jobs. The consultant was very
sure about Midland's future success, going so far as to tell city officials
their optimistic figures "tend to be on the conservative side ... We've done 400
of these and have a very strong base of knowledge."

Oh. And
that's the same firm San Antonio hired last year for the "Destination: SA"
tourism plan.
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