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Tue, May

LA Cannot Afford Its Convention Center

LA WATCHDOG

LA WATCHDOG--The City of Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious, $470 million plan to modernize and expand the Convention Center so that it can compete with other first tier, West Coast cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim in attracting large scale conventions. This undertaking is expected to be completed by 2020 and is designed to promote tourism, one of the main drivers of our economy, and to stimulate the private development of hotels, restaurants, residences, and office and retail space in the South Park neighborhood and the rest of DTLA. 

This expansion will increase the Convention Center offering to almost 1.25 million square feet, up 43% from the current level of 870,000 square feet.  At the same time, the new and improved Convention Center campus is designed to be an integral part of the community, linking seamlessly with the neighborhood, LA Live, and Staples. 

The City will also encourage the development of several thousand new hotel rooms in DTLA to accommodate highly desired, big spending, out of town conventioneers who will not only stimulate our economy, but will also contribute generously to the City’s coffers through the 14% Transit Occupancy Tax on their hotel bill.  

This also includes a privately financed, upscale Convention Headquarters Hotel of at least 1,000 rooms that will be strategically located on City owned property, most likely near Staples and LA Live on the north end of the campus.    

The City intends to finance this $470 million expansion with debt, which, when combined with existing Convention Center debt of almost $300 million, will total a staggering $770 million. This debt will be serviced by the Convention Center’s 25% share of the Transit Occupancy Tax which is expected to yield the Convention Center $54 million this fiscal year.  By 2020, this tax is projected to increase by over 20% to $261.8 million, resulting in $65 million to service Convention Center debt. 

However, our cash strapped City does not have the financial flexibility to finance this expansion and other immediate worthwhile projects, including the $1 billion to replace its aging and neglected equipment (including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances) without blowing a gaping hole in its Debt Management Policy which limits debt service for Non-Voted Indebtedness to less than 6% of General Fund revenues.  This violation would send the wrong message to the investment community, resulting in a downgrading of the City’s credit rating and higher interest rates.  

The City Administrative Officer has recommended that the City enter into a Public Private Partnership (a “P3”) where the City would select a turnkey development partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the expansion of the Convention Center and the development of the surrounding real estate.  Under this recommended alternative, the 44 year old West Hall would be demolished and rebuilt (not retrofitted as currently envisioned).  The partner would also develop 9 to 14 acres of the 54 acre campus by creating “an integrated mixed-use real estate development” that would help to offset the costs of associated with the Convention Center, a loss leader that cannot even begin to pay the interest on $770 million of debt.  Needless to say, any development plans need to be consistent with the Community Plan.  

A P3 also protects the City from any cost overruns associated with the expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of the Headquarters Hotel and isolates it from any operating losses.  The partner is also responsible for maintaining the campus in excellent condition, a task that the City has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing on a sustained basis. 

While the terms of the P3 need to be worked out, including any “availability service payments” by the City to service the debt, the net result will result in more cash for our City’s deficit prone budget by creating a more vibrant Convention Center, more out of town visitors resulting in higher increased Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, and lower contributions to the Convention Center. 

The expansion of the Convention Center in conjunction with a well-capitalized partner is a win-win for our financially challenged City.  Don’t blow it. 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])

-cw

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