Shopping Mall Scam
Now that a stake has finally been driven through the heart of the downtown Shopping Mall Scam, along comes a new scam to take its place: the
Testifying before a U.S. House of Representative subcommittee in March 2007, Sanders said, “Forecasts of thousands of new convention attendees boosting local economies with millions of dollars in new spending, yielding thousands of new jobs are the common currency of local convention center development proposals and related consultant market studies.” That currency, Sanders suggests, is counterfeit; the optimism that proposed convention centers generate is unjustified. But that’s not the end of the convention center scam, for when existing convention centers do not live up to expectations, the argument is made that the reason they are not doing well is that they are not large enough: to succeed, they need to expand. So the convention centers become even bigger and so do the problems.
As for the hotels that are frequently part of a convention center package, Sanders in his House testimony warned they are as unlikely to generate growth as the convention centers themselves. “While consultant market and feasibility studies for these hotel projects indicate little public risk,” he pointed out, “with hotel operation forecast to generate sufficient net income to pay for debt service, those forecasts have almost invariably proven incorrect.”
Part of the problem with convention centers are the consulting firms that communities hire to make preliminary studies. Those firms almost always conclude that a convention center/hotel complex is a slam dunk that will lead to more visitors, more revenue, and more growth. In a 2000 interview in ArtVoice, Sanders said, “I’ve read about forty different feasibility studies. And you know, not a single one says don’t do it, don’t build a new center. Not one even says this might not be a good idea, or maybe you should be cautious. Every single one says ‘build it, you’ll do great.’ ” “If you build it they will come” works in the movies but not in reality, and Portsmouth, last I heard, was still located in reality, though too many of its residents try to escape from its poverty and despair with drugs and other forms of dope. CEO N. R. Augustine,of Martin
The development of the consultant field is one of the great rackets of the last half century. Consultants can always come up with the facts and figures to justify whatever it is the groups that hire them want to do. Do you think consultants would be in business very long if they didn’t? Convention center consultants are to the present what medicine men were to the past. Medicine men promised to make hair grow on bald heads, the consultants promise that convention centers will rejuvenate depressed downtown areas. The most profitable of these convention center consultants is, ironically, a firm named Johnson Consulting!
Consultants can be used to demolish as well as build. If you want to tear down a city hall or municipal building to make way for a convention center/hotel complex, hire a consultant firm to come up with a study that concludes the building is a public hazard and should have been torn down ten or twenty years ago, even though the building is only about 75 years old and its municipal architectural twin sister, a U.S. Post Office located just up the street, constructed at the same time, is doing just fine thank you. Want to stick the taxpayers with an empty leaking relic of a department store that is 125 years old and no retail merchant in his right mind would want? Then hire a consultant, or appoint an advisory committee, to decide that building is just the place to invest $12 to $15 million public dollars to convert it into a “
Speaking of antique/junk shoppes, convention center/hotel complexes in dozens of American cities have turned out to be white elephants. We’re talking about cities as visitable as
And before we have casino gambling in
There is an extensive bi-partisan conspiracy to keep the game fixed. Anyone who comes to work in Portsmouth doesn’t need a consultant to tell him or her that loyalty or at least submission, is rewarded and criticism is punished; that just as long as you don’t try to change anything, you are welcome; that just as long you are willing to put up with cronyism, incompetence, and corruption, you will fit in; and that just as long as you are willing to go along, you will get along. In
“The immediate proponents [of convention centers] often are hotel owners and Convention and Visitors Bureaus,” Sanders said in ArtVoice. “But it’s usually the big boys, the major players in local business, who are really behind it. These are people who have a tremendous amount of money invested in the entire downtown area, and when the city’s economy is doing poorly they’re desperately concerned that they could lose a good part of what they’ve put into downtown.” I have not read a more accurate description of the role of
Sanders argues that “revitalization works where you have multiple small-scale undertakings, not blockbuster public investments. Compare [Manhattan’s] SoHo to the West Side projects around the Javits Center—one wasn’t centrally planned at all, it just happened as people discovered inexpensive space available in attractive buildings, and it’s thriving. The other has received all kinds of public attention and isn’t going anywhere.” Then he cites an example closer to
A survey conducted by SSU students found that about half the people interviewed thought downtown