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Letter to the Editor: Expo, event centers place burden on taxpayers

Letter to the Editor • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:37 PM

It’s not hard to find headlines all across the country of arena and expo centers having trouble. 

Sacramento Convention Center “is a money-losing subsidy hog.”

“The fourth full year of the center’s operation, the county lost more than $1.8 million on the Expo Center Brazos County,” Texas, home of Texas A&M.

“Unfortunately, officials at the Greater Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Visitors Bureau continue to see more and more evidence of declining meeting-planning business at the convention center.”

“Losses associated with the Portland, Ore. Convention Center are no surprise. After two decades in which convention centers across the country have been improved, expanded, even completely redone, a predictable pattern has emerged—despite expensive upgrades, convention centers lose money.”

So why do public expo centers lose money?

“Contrary to a popular misconception, convention and conference centers are designed to lose money,” according to the Annual Conference of the National Council for Urban Economic Development.

“Contrary to popular belief, government subsidies to convention centers do not “multiply” into unique economic benefits.”

“Most notably that convention center construction, ownership, and management are business activities best left to the private sector,” according to a white paper from Dr. Edwin S Mills, emeritus professor of real estate and finance at Northwestern University.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Association started in 1935 with their first show in 1939, but they have fallen on hard times and have had to make tough decisions on staff, management and the way they do business. One change is beer sales.

Beer sales are nothing new to help the revenue at these events:

• Coors is the official beer of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

• Coors sponsors the National Hockey League.

• Anheuser-Busch sponsors Major League Soccer, etc.

The business of concerts are also changing.  From a Wall Street Journal article, Kid Rock has dropped his ticket price at the door and is going after a percentage of the concessions. His quote, “I don’t think it would be too much of a surprise to the general public that my fans drink tons of beer.”

Beer sales, of course, are not allowed at the Wilson County fairgrounds, and maybe this is not a business the county or the city needs to be in anyway.

Lawsuits are now popping up, the owner of the facility is liable for DUI deaths in certain states.

Kraft group settles out of court of a $2.5 million DUI lawsuit at a concert at Gillette Stadium. Foxborough, MA

Mother sues because the DUI driver was served alcohol at a concert, lawsuit against amphitheater, operator and vendor. Chicago

In conclusion, the city and Wilson County leaders know nothing about the business & the survey presented was incomplete. There are enough expo centers around the county that could have given us some real numbers. Why didn’t the county use someone that’s in that field to do the survey?

There are even more numbers showing the reasons why companies are using conference centers next to  hotels for their trade shows. This venture belongs to the private sector as Dr. Mills suggests. How many developers, Real Estate Investment Trust companies have they contacted to recruit them to come to town and build an expo center.  The county needs a benefactor, such as John C. Miller, who gave $20 million to Middle Tennessee State University for its expo in Rutherford County, and Bart Gordon got a grant from the USDA for $2.5 million.  What about a corporate sponsor to build the expo.  Has anyone contacted Cracker Barrel with the idea to sponsor barrel racing around the country and have the National Championship in “their” expo center in Lebanon.  Let’s get to work on some ideas and quit spending the money that belongs to the taxpayers.  Yes, the hotel/motel tax belongs to the citizens of Wilson County. Anytime there is a new source of revenue that becomes available, it belongs to us.  

Before I get bashed for all of the claims I’ve made, let’s add some common sense.

Now, I’ve got a survey. If we have a new source of income, what would you spend it on, getting rid of all of the cubicles at the schools around the county or a rodeo? 

Ed Lanius


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