Big Boxes, Big Busts

Some claim that some big boxes will destroy cities, particularly if the sign out front says “Wal-Mart.” Meanwhile other big boxes (e.g. convention centers) are supposed to be good for cities. They can attract tourists and turn some of the most boring corners of America into “world class” cities. In fact, if you put it that way, you’ve got a good shot at drumming up some public financing for your big idea. Enter Heywood Sanders. The frequent debunker of the case for publicly financed big boxes is at it again. His recent Brookings report finds: 1. The convention marketplace is declining and unlikely to rebound:

[T]his decline began prior to the disruptions of 9-11 and is exacerbated by advances in communications technology. Currently, overall attendance at the 200 largest tradeshow events languishes at 1993 levels.

2. Undaunted, cities are dumping more money into convention centers:

Over the past decade alone, public capital spending on convention centers has doubled to $2.4 billion annually, increasing convention space by over 50 percent since 1990. Nationwide, 44 new or expanded convention centers are now in planning or construction.

3. Cities are digging themselves into a deeper pit by building publicly-financed hotels:

Another competitive response has been to offer deep discounts to tradeshow groups. Despite dedicated taxes to pay off the public bonds issued to build convention centers, manyââ?¬â??including Washington, D.C and St. Louisââ?¬â??operate at a loss.

(Via Planetizen.)