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The Committee of 100 on the Federal City
An Open Letter to Linda Cropp
October 30, 1997




October 30, 1997


The Honorable Linda W. Cropp
Chairperson, Council of the District of Columbia
441-4th Street, N.W., #704
Washington, D.C. 20001
Attention: Rob Miller

RE: Convention Center

Dear Linda:

Thank you again for speaking to the Committee of 100's membership meeting last month. I wanted you to have the Committee's latest thoughts on the convention center before you voted on Bill 12-379.


As you know, we are strongly in favor of a larger, improved convention center for D.C. -- but suggest it be located at Union Station rather than Mt. Vernon Square. Our September 18, 1997 Report showed why the Union Station site made more sense: it was not located in the middle of a historic, black, residential neighborhood; it would take trucks directly from New York Avenue; and it would cost $100-200 million less to build because the land is less valuable and no expensive underground excavation would be necessary for exhibition space, truck bays etc.

Further, our Report showed how the District would gain $27.6 million in tax revenues from our proposed "Straw Village at Mt. Vernon Square" which could be built on the Mt. Vernon land proposed for the convention center; and still reap the $13 million in taxes from a convention center at Union Station -- a total gain of over $40 million in annual tax revenues to D.C.

Now it seems that cost estimates for building the Mt. Vernon center are skyrocketing still higher. WCCA's estimates have gone from $444 million to $650 million; GAO has added another $87.3 million in financing; and Bill 12-379 proposes untold millions more by stretching out the bond payback from 30 to 40 years. At the same time, Bill 12-379 proposes an unlimited franchise tax on D.C. businesses to pay for any operating overruns and further diversion of six local taxes to underwrite the bonds.

What is most disturbing to the Committee is that when we finally know how much the Mt. Vernon center will cost, it will still break the three cardinal rules of convention center construction:

  1. It will have no room to expand.

  2. It not be located on one floor.

  3. It will have virtually no on-site or contiguous parking, even for the scores of local and regional events it will sponsor each year.

There is not a city in the U. S. building a new convention center with NO ROOM TO EXPAND and NO PARKING.


The Center for Exhibition Industry Research predicts that within the next five years, demand for exhibition space will grow by 23 percent.1 Industry experts all agree that both the size of trade shows and meetings, and their attendance keep growing every year as the overall U. S. economy grows and diversifies.2

The attached chart, prepared by the Committee of 100 with the pro bono assistance of nationally recognized convention center planners and financial experts, shows that virtually every one of the top 15 convention center cities is either planning or undertaking an expansion of their facilities. Viewed in this context, Washington will not have the sixth largest center when built, as WCCA predicts; but will be lucky to end up 16th as our chart shows. Indeed, if we are really building for the next 50 years, as WCCA maintains, we will rank well down the list because we have no room to expand.


This is the same mistake WCCA made in 1983 when it built the present convention center. That was out-of-date in 1986 because it provided no room for expansion.


As the attached chart shows, Washington's Convention Center is planned for the smallest site of any of the top tier cities -- only 17 acres. Moreover, because 500,000 of its 735,000 sq. ft. exhibition space is located underground, the Mt. Vernon convention center can not expand even if there were room.


Moreover, because the Mt. Vernon site is so narrow and squeezed, the proposed center can not be located on one floor. It has 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space underground and 235,000 sq. ft. on level 3. This violates the cardinal rule of convention center flexibility: all facilities must be on one floor to handle the maximum number of conventions when setting up, showing, and taking down. Mt. Vernon will be able to accommodate only one highly desirable 300-400,000 sq. ft. trade show at a time even though it has a total of 750,000 sq. ft. This is because its space is not flexible; not located on one floor. This is poor planning.


In considering where to locate its new downtown convention center, Boston's 1997 feasibility study recommended in the strongest terms that 600,000 sq. ft. (on one floor) would only make do until approximately the year 2008 (less than 10 years down the pike). Its consultant team underscored the need for the Boston authorities to acquire 400- 600,000 sq. ft. of additional expansion room now, saying, "The market demand for the [Boston Convention & Exhibition Center] facility indicates that expansion will be required within an approximate ten-year time frame. It would be imprudent to make such a significant, public investment in a new facility without providing the opportunity for future expansion."3


The same experts who assisted the Committee of 100 prepare its study of future convention center expansion plans, have also noted in the attached chart that every center (except New York's Manhattan center, for obvious reasons) has provided for thousands of parking spaces either on the center's site (the vast majority) or in contiguous blocks. Indeed, the influx of cars for regional and local events (of which WCCA predicts the Mt. Vernon center would host 64 to 84 per year4), is so great that many centers won't hold these so called "gate shows" at all.5 They just don't have enough parking for all that traffic.

A look at the parking map contained in WCCA's Transportation Management Plan shows: first not a single parking place is planned on site; and second there will be only three lots in the 12 blocks contiguous to the proposed Mt. Vernon center. According to the lot managers, these lots have space for a total of 297 cars; and they are full by 8 a.m. with federal workers. Indeed, building the center, itself, will remove spaces for 1100 cars which will have to find room elsewhere in an already clogged vicinity.


The same narrow 17 acre Mt. Vernon site which totally restricts expansion room and on-site parking also is driving the costs of the center out of sight. Underground construction of 500,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space; underground construction of truck bays; hollowing-out 9th street; and reinforcing the 2nd and 3rd levels for truck access and egress has added $150-250 million to construction costs. Total center costs are now over $822,000 million: $650 million base costs; $87.3 million in extra financing costs according to GAO; $85 million in assessed land values according to the EIS; and this does not include those additional costs mandated by NCPC design approval; and resulting from stretching out the bond financing from 30 to 40 years!

These costs greatly exceed the costs of construction for other comparable convention centers. And Washington will have NO EXPANSION ROOM and NO PARKING.

It makes so much more sense to explore the Union Station alternative as put forward by the Committee of 100 in its September 18,1997 Report, available by calling (202)789-7864.

Tersh Boasberg, Chairman

1. Final Report on the proposed Boston Convention and Exhibition Center by Johnson Consulting, ZAH Incorporated and Four Point Associates, March, 1997 at p. 3 (hereafter Boston C&EC Report).
2. Ibid.
3. Boston C & EC Report, supra, p. 40.
4. WCCA Final EIS pp. 1-16.
5. Boston C & EC Report, pp. 65-66.


City/Convention Center Exhibit Space
(sq. ft.)
Expansion Plans Total Site (Acres) Parking on-site or contiguous (No. of cars)
Chicago CC (McCormick Pl.) 1,850,000 500,000 2.35 ml. 100+ 3-5,000
New Orleans CC (Morial)** 1,300,000 1.3 ml. 100 2,000
Orlando CC (Orange Co.)** 1,050,000 250,000 1.3 ml. 125 3,500
Las Vegas CC** 970,000 425,000 1.4 ml. 4,800
Atlanta CC (GA, Wd. Cong.)** 950,000 500,000 1.45 ml. 100+ 5,000
Las Vegas CC (Sands)** 935,000 105,000 1.04 ml. 1,400
Los Vegas CC 867,000 867,000 34 6,000
N.Y.C. CC (Javits)** 760,000 540,000 1.3 ml.
Anaheim CC** 670,000 330,000 1.0 ml. 75 5,500
Orlando CC (Osceola Co.)*/** 2.1 ml. 2.1+ ml. 100+ 5,000
San Diego CC** 630,000 500,000 1.1 ml. 27 2,200
Boston TCC*/** 600,000 400,000 1.0 ml. 60 2,000
Dallas CC 600,000 300,000 900,000 1,300
Kentucky Expo CC 793,100 793,100 19,000
Miami Beach CC 502,800 250,000 752,800 2,800
Washington CC*/** 735,000 no 735,000 17 297
Cobo CC (Detroit) 700,000 700,000 9,248
Cervantas CC (St. Louis) 502,300 502,300 5,900
New Atlantic City CC 500,000 500,000 7,600
Brown CC (Houston) 451,500 451,500 3,000

*New facility
**Expansion studies or expansion underway

The Committee of 100 is indebted to the following nationally known convention center experts for their pro bono assistance in preparing the above chart.

Charles H. Johnson, IV
Thomas Hazinski
C.H. Johnson Consulting, Inc.
203 N. Wabash, Suite 310
Chicago, IL 60601
David P. O'Neal, President
Conventional Wisdom Corp.
P.O. Box 2454
Windemere, FL 34786-2454
Jeff Sachs
Public Assembly Group
Ernst & Young LLP
600 Peachtree St., Suite 2800
Atlanta, GA 30308-2205

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