Remember when the power that be in Madison were telling us taxpayers that building a convention center would be an excellent investment in future economic growth? They had optimistic projections about all of the convention business that would come to our fair city.
Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Downtown hotel operators were not pleased that the city might consider subsidizing their competition. No problem, the boosters said, we don't need an adjacent hotel; we have plenty of rooms downtown already. Your businesses can only benefit.
Many taxpayers did not like the idea of subsidizing the convention industry. No problem, the boosters said, we won't need a city subsidy to operate the convention center, just to build it.
Well, the optimistic projections were entirely fictional. We never stopped subsidizing the operation of Monona Terrace. We were told after the first few years that we weren't getting enough convention business because there was no adjacent hotel. If we build the Hilton, we were told, the conventions will come. So once again, the city ponied up (with TIF funds) in hopes of grabbing more convention business.
Now, we are being told, the Hilton is not enough. We need another hotel in the vicinity, and the city is being asked to subsidize its development. Enough, already.
We are never going to attract major conventions, because we do not have a major airport. It is neither convenient nor affordable to fly into Madison compared to Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. The difference between first and second tier convention cities is the proximity of a commercial airline hub.
The few big conventions that Madison attracts are due to the proximity of special facilities or expertise (like the World Dairy Expo or the Stem Cell Summit that UW-Madison held last Fall). They came here without a shiny new hotel being built in the Madison Municipal Building.
We are being sold a bill of goods by the Marcus Corporation (who wants to build the new hotel, as long as it's taxpayer-subsidized). If the Madison Visitors & Convention Bureau and Monona Terrace really want to attract more convention business, they won't ask for another hotel; they'll ask the city to subsidize more flights into Madison. Maybe the city should operate a twice-daily commuter shuttle from O'Hare and give group discounts to meeting planners.
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