Fact Check: Leaving Las Vegas’ Convention Center

Fact Check: Leaving Las Vegas’ Convention Center

Image via Shuterstock

Image: Mostly TrueStatement: “Well, they doubled the size of the convention center in Las Vegas … and they’re doing the same exact business as they were before they doubled it,” former City Attorney Mike Aguirre said in an Oct. 23 Q-and-A with CityBeat.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Most current and former city officials rallied around plans to expand the San Diego Convention Center but former City Attorney Mike Aguirre has yet to be persuaded it’s the best approach.

As he campaigned for mayor, Aguirre argued the city should spend more time analyzing whether the expansion will make financial sense and offered at least one cautionary tale.

He claimed in an interview with CityBeat that a project that doubled the size of Las Vegas’ convention center didn’t lead to increased business there.

I decided to look into Aguirre’s statement because the city, Port of San Diego and hotel visitors will invest millions into the our city’s project over the next 30 years and seeing how that expense played out elsewhere could be eye-opening.

The Las Vegas Convention Center’s last major expansion was in 2002, when the city debuted 1.3 million square feet of new meeting and event space plus increased food options to what was then a 1.9 million square foot facility.

The city has since announced plans to upgrade the convention center again.

In the decade before the 2002 expansion, the center hosted an average of about 1.1 million visitors and 52 events annually, according to numbers released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Those numbers temporarily spiked from 2004 to 2008, when the facility hosted at least 67 events and 1.48 million visitors each year.

The increase didn’t last long.  The number of yearly visitors and conventions fell considerably in 2009, when a national recession hit the tourism industry hard.

Here’s a look at how the number of visitors has varied over the past 14 years.

The Las Vegas Convention Center hosted 1.27 million visitors in 2000 and just under 1.3 million in 2001.

By comparison, the facility hosted 1.28 million convention attendees in 2011 and 1.21 million in 2012.

Aguirre claimed that Las Vegas expanded its convention center and now sees the same business it did before the new additions.

That’s pretty accurate. The convention center attracted roughly the same number of visitors in 2011 and 2012 as it did in the years before the city added more convention space.

Yet convention bureau statistics also reveal the Las Vegas Convention Center saw a spike in attendance from 2004 through 2008, when the economy was booming.

As a result, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the expansion directly resulted in the increased convention visitors or whether Las Vegas’s convention facility will experience the same influx of visitors it saw in the mid-2000s as we emerge from the recession.

We label a statement mostly true when it’s correct but there’s a crucial nuance worth considering.

The ruling applies here. While the Las Vegas Convention Center has hosted roughly the same number of visitors in the past two years as it did in the years before the expansion, Aguirre’s statement fails to acknowledge the pre-recession boost in attendance.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

  • 461 Posts
  • 11
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

22 comments
Phillip Franklin
Phillip Franklin

I agree with many of those opinions here. There is no economic justification nor actual need to expand the convention center. It is nothing more than a gift to the powers who for the most part run things. Yes big construction, big labor, and in general big business who enjoys getting tax payer money for their own benefit. Having a larger convention will not bring in more business. There are so many economic principles that are simply ignored. I think San Diego gets its biggest share of tourism or convention simply because of its geography and weather. Everything else is almost inconsequential.

We are not New York, Chicago or even San Francisco in terms a major business hub. Far from that. We have very few significant Fortune 500 companies located here. We have a second rate airport with very few direct flights and almost no international flights. This city has supported itself off of the military and general family type tourism since World War 2. We have tried to focus on bio-tech and communications with some success, but are far from the minimal goals we need to achieve success in those industries. Spending all this tax payer money on an unnecessary expansion of our convention center in hopes of attracting business or economic growth is just plain foolish and is nothing more than a gift to the special interests that run this city. It will only cost more and more precious tax payer dollars and damage the already very weak finances of this city.

Phillip Franklin
Phillip Franklin subscriber

I agree with many of those opinions here. There is no economic justification nor actual need to expand the convention center. It is nothing more than a gift to the powers who for the most part run things. Yes big construction, big labor, and in general big business who enjoys getting tax payer money for their own benefit. Having a larger convention will not bring in more business. There are so many economic principles that are simply ignored. I think San Diego gets its biggest share of tourism or convention simply because of its geography and weather. Everything else is almost inconsequential.

We are not New York, Chicago or even San Francisco in terms a major business hub. Far from that. We have very few significant Fortune 500 companies located here. We have a second rate airport with very few direct flights and almost no international flights. This city has supported itself off of the military and general family type tourism since World War 2. We have tried to focus on bio-tech and communications with some success, but are far from the minimal goals we need to achieve success in those industries. Spending all this tax payer money on an unnecessary expansion of our convention center in hopes of attracting business or economic growth is just plain foolish and is nothing more than a gift to the special interests that run this city. It will only cost more and more precious tax payer dollars and damage the already very weak finances of this city.

richard brick
richard brick

If convention centers and ball parks are such money makers why aren't monied investors stepping forward for a % of the take? The tax payers are always left holding the empty bag. In New York they the taxpayers are still paying off bonds for stadiums that have already been torn down.

richard brick
richard brick subscribermember

If convention centers and ball parks are such money makers why aren't monied investors stepping forward for a % of the take? The tax payers are always left holding the empty bag. In New York they the taxpayers are still paying off bonds for stadiums that have already been torn down.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton

I own a small business. My business steadily increased from 2002 to July 2008, with an aggregate 33% increase. Most of that increase was from 2005 to July 2008. It then took a 18% dive in the next 17 months. In 2011 and 2012, it returned to pre-recession levels and is up this year. Now, I wonder. Should I attribute that pattern in large part to greater economic picture? Or should it attribute it to the fact that I remodeled my store in mid-2005? I'm thinking it was mostly the economy and that the same is true for Las Vegas. I'd be pretty embarrassed if I had doubled the size of my business and got a sales increase of 25% during a fired up economy. But not so much if the taxpayers had paid for my expansion!

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

I own a small business. My business steadily increased from 2002 to July 2008, with an aggregate 33% increase. Most of that increase was from 2005 to July 2008. It then took a 18% dive in the next 17 months. In 2011 and 2012, it returned to pre-recession levels and is up this year. Now, I wonder. Should I attribute that pattern in large part to greater economic picture? Or should it attribute it to the fact that I remodeled my store in mid-2005? I'm thinking it was mostly the economy and that the same is true for Las Vegas. I'd be pretty embarrassed if I had doubled the size of my business and got a sales increase of 25% during a fired up economy. But not so much if the taxpayers had paid for my expansion!

Carlynne Allbee
Carlynne Allbee

There are two numbers here that we have to consider. First is the number of events and the calendar itself limits the convention center. However, I have been in large convention centers that had more than one "small" convention on at the same time, so that would increase the number of events.

The second number has to do with the size of the convention. I have talked to people whose job is arranging events that will bring in 5,000 to 6,000 convention attendees and our facility is too small for the events they put on.

Associated with that thought, those 6,000 attendees do NOT want to have to walk a few blocks to participate in events associated with the same convention, which was the proposal put forward with the idea of a football stadium downtown as part of the convention center expansion.

The Las Vegas numbers show smaller numbers, but I know from personal experience that several of us cannot afford to attend events that we used to go to since, as the writer pointed out, there has been a downturn in the economy.

Carlynne Allbee
Carlynne Allbee subscriber

There are two numbers here that we have to consider. First is the number of events and the calendar itself limits the convention center. However, I have been in large convention centers that had more than one "small" convention on at the same time, so that would increase the number of events.

The second number has to do with the size of the convention. I have talked to people whose job is arranging events that will bring in 5,000 to 6,000 convention attendees and our facility is too small for the events they put on.

Associated with that thought, those 6,000 attendees do NOT want to have to walk a few blocks to participate in events associated with the same convention, which was the proposal put forward with the idea of a football stadium downtown as part of the convention center expansion.

The Las Vegas numbers show smaller numbers, but I know from personal experience that several of us cannot afford to attend events that we used to go to since, as the writer pointed out, there has been a downturn in the economy.

Grammie
Grammie

I have never understood the rationale for municipalities funding business edifices such as ball parks or convention centers. By the same logic, they should be constructing shopping centers, amusement parks, and zoos. This doesn't happen. Why?

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster

While this is an interesting fact check, it seems journalistically myopic to me. The more important question for the community to ponder is, "Will the expansion have a net benefit?" As one commenter has alluded from his political perspective, labor may support expansion because it requires labor to build and labor to run. But similarly business supports expansion because businesses will be hired to build it and because any additional convention activity benefits the tourism industry and the convention center is built with the backstop of taxpayer money. The bigger question is whether expanding a convention center (or specifically this convention center) is the best use of tax dollars in terms of money in and money out. No one seems to be asking that question because labor and business are on the same page on this one, and the town's only newspaper is on the side of business. The link below provides an alternative point of view.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

While this is an interesting fact check, it seems journalistically myopic to me. The more important question for the community to ponder is, "Will the expansion have a net benefit?" As one commenter has alluded from his political perspective, labor may support expansion because it requires labor to build and labor to run. But similarly business supports expansion because businesses will be hired to build it and because any additional convention activity benefits the tourism industry and the convention center is built with the backstop of taxpayer money. The bigger question is whether expanding a convention center (or specifically this convention center) is the best use of tax dollars in terms of money in and money out. No one seems to be asking that question because labor and business are on the same page on this one, and the town's only newspaper is on the side of business. The link below provides an alternative point of view.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The convention center expansion isn't about business, it's about business as usual, it's about funneling money to PLA's and union workers and developers, with enough money being involved to have a slush fund or two going out the back door.
It's about betting the average citizen is gullible, which is a pretty safe bet in this town.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The convention center expansion isn't about business, it's about business as usual, it's about funneling money to PLA's and union workers and developers, with enough money being involved to have a slush fund or two going out the back door.
It's about betting the average citizen is gullible, which is a pretty safe bet in this town.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Ms. Allbee: With respect to your statement that, "I have talked to people whose job is arranging events that will bring in 5,000 to 6,000 convention attendees and our facility is too small for the events they put on." If you will kindly refer to the capacity charts linked to this post you will see that on the ground level alone (there are three levels) the capacity for halls ABC (there are also DEFGH) is 20,000 (theater) or 16,936 (classroom) or 12,640 (banquet) or 20,000 (reception). I think your sources are seriously misinformed.San Diego Convention Center: Event Capacity Chartshttp://www.visitsandiego.com/meetingplanners/capacity.cfmThe San Diego Convention Center is meeting planners' top choice for hosting major conventions, trade shows, meetings and special events.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Congratulations to Chris Brewster for finding and posting this fascinating document. It's dated 1991, so might seem easy to categorize as "outdated", but I took the time to read the whole thing and found it an impressive study, certainly valid today in principle. The author demonstrates that the so-called "accounting" of costs and benefits is highly suspect, even corrupt, and makes a powerful case for getting government out of the convention center business because of numerous conflicts of interest.

One thing that HAS changed since 1991, which was a pretty full employment year, is the relentless downward slope in convention attendance compared to available space, so that convention cities, many of whom have steadily expanded facilities, are competing for a shrinking set of attendees. San Diego is a strong competitor with the advantage of great year-round weather and a near ideal location next to the airport and right on the bay. These advantages, however, hardly outweigh this trend and I think the public is entitled to a detailed projection of the financials before any expansion proceeds.

I hope that Mr. Brewster mails a copy of this study to each member of the city council and the mayor and asks for comment.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Congratulations to Chris Brewster for finding and posting this fascinating document. It's dated 1991, so might seem easy to categorize as "outdated", but I took the time to read the whole thing and found it an impressive study, certainly valid today in principle. The author demonstrates that the so-called "accounting" of costs and benefits is highly suspect, even corrupt, and makes a powerful case for getting government out of the convention center business because of numerous conflicts of interest.

One thing that HAS changed since 1991, which was a pretty full employment year, is the relentless downward slope in convention attendance compared to available space, so that convention cities, many of whom have steadily expanded facilities, are competing for a shrinking set of attendees. San Diego is a strong competitor with the advantage of great year-round weather and a near ideal location next to the airport and right on the bay. These advantages, however, hardly outweigh this trend and I think the public is entitled to a detailed projection of the financials before any expansion proceeds.

I hope that Mr. Brewster mails a copy of this study to each member of the city council and the mayor and asks for comment.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin

Same kind of "bi-partisan" BS that brought us pension underfunding.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Same kind of "bi-partisan" BS that brought us pension underfunding.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The same kind that brought us the first expansion, which remains a net loss for the city. The second expansion, if done, will accelerate that loss.

The hoteliers that are for this have the best real estate in the city, already have a convention center, and now they want more. The unions will get their share of the pie. The Chargers, another big business keeps trying to get in on the it as well, poor Charger, can't win on or off the field (although thanks for the KC win, my Broncos needed that one).

Who will step in next to take your money out of your kids mouth to stuff their already fat wallets? We know the bought and paid for politicians will follow on their knees, looking for their handful of cash and pat on the head.

The worst part is that we, the citizens, diluted by those that look to profit off the union and business windfall are collectively stupid enough to let this happen.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The same kind that brought us the first expansion, which remains a net loss for the city. The second expansion, if done, will accelerate that loss.

The hoteliers that are for this have the best real estate in the city, already have a convention center, and now they want more. The unions will get their share of the pie. The Chargers, another big business keeps trying to get in on the it as well, poor Charger, can't win on or off the field (although thanks for the KC win, my Broncos needed that one).

Who will step in next to take your money out of your kids mouth to stuff their already fat wallets? We know the bought and paid for politicians will follow on their knees, looking for their handful of cash and pat on the head.

The worst part is that we, the citizens, diluted by those that look to profit off the union and business windfall are collectively stupid enough to let this happen.