Centre of controversy
Last Friday, a group calling itself the Coalition to Save the View helda press conference to release its analysis of four reports on thefinancial viability of a new convention centre for downtown Halifax.
Last Friday, a group calling itself the Coalition to Save the View held a press conference to release its analysis of four reports on the financial viability of a new convention centre for downtown Halifax. Promoters want the province to ante up one-third of its $300-million cost.
You may recall that when those vital-to-understanding-the-business-case reports were first released last winter — following a freedom of information request from (let the record show) the coalition rather than any media outlet — they were so heavily censored as to be unintelligible.
At the end of April, under orders from provincial Infrastructure Minister Bill Estabrooks, the reports were finally released, almost in full.
Initial media accounts claimed the reports supported the convention centre. While technically true, such conclusions, the coalition countered, “can only have resulted from a very superficial reading of the reports.” The coalition’s documentation includes four, small-type pages filled with quotations from the reports, each raising doubts about the case for the convention centre.
Between caveats — one report concedes it was prepared “without the benefit of any primary research” — and quietly acknowledged facts — a “huge supply of underutilized facilities in the U.S.” is forcing convention marketers to deep discount or eliminate rental rates entirely in order to attract ever fewer conventions — the coalition argues the reports don’t actually make the upbeat case they claim to.
The coalition’s own analysis indicates it will cost governments far more to cover the interest on borrowing funds to build the centre than it will recover in additional tax revenues.
“There’s no business case,” the coalition concludes.
Rather than responding to the substance of those arguments, Halifax Herald business columnist Roger Taylor began his day-after-the-press-conference column this way: “It must be difficult for a group calling itself the Coalition to Save the View to argue that its opposition to a new convention centre in Halifax is anything other than an attempt to prevent highrises from being built in the downtown.”
Taylor coupled his swipe at the coalition’s motives — he didn’t mention that one key report in favour of a new convention centre was written by the executive director of Convention Centres of Canada, a convention industry-promoting agency — with a no-numbers, no-analysis attack on its conclusions. “The coalition’s effort to fight the project on economic grounds,” he wrote, “fell short.”
Of what exactly?
The convention centre is beginning to sound like the Commonwealth Games all over again. With promoters and the puff press urging us to drink the Kool Aid — without wanting to tell us what’s really in it.
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.