The Thurston County Board of Commissioners is proposing a ballot initiative to study the feasibility of a local convention center. This is a bad idea, and should stop now.
The case for convention centers is that by investing public dollars in meeting and presentation space, money will flow back to the community in the form of hotel, restaurant, and other spending at local businesses. The problem is that the economic benefits often fail to outweigh the costs. This is especially true in smaller communities competing against nearby, larger rivals, which Thurston County would be.
The Commissioners are proposing a study, which seems like a reasonable compromise; let’s just take a look and see if it pencils out, right? Unfortunately, these studies are often politically motivated tools to promote the proposed project, rather than objective analysis. In an oft-cited study (http://bit.ly/2tY2NQt), John L. Crompton describes the tactics used to promote these projects. Some of the more common tactics are including local residents in “new” spending, ignoring local costs, and exaggerating likely attendance. If the proposed study does move forward, Thurston County citizens should look out for these, and other, errors in the final report.
We in Thurston County have plenty of issues to spend our time and resources on. Chronic homelessness and better transportation links with Seattle/Tacoma are obvious examples. The Commissioners should direct our resources toward these clear and present concerns.