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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 12:18 am

Yabba Dabba Doo-ing it

Recalling the broken promise of the PCCC

The updated Prairie Capital Convention Center, soon to be renamed for the Bank of Springfield.


We learned July 18 that the directors of the Prairie Capital Convention Center approved the sale of naming rights to the building to the Bank of Springfield. Mike Coffey Jr., chairman of the board that oversees the center, told the State Journal-Register that the center is “a great loss leader for the city as far as attracting conventions and people from out of state.”

Conventions centers are not the only government facilities designed to lose money, but libraries and colleges enrich the community in other ways. It was clear from the start that the only community the PCCC would enrich would be the Municipal Building, as I tried to point out in this column, published in my Prejudices series on Nov. 9, 1979, the week the convention center opened. Edited for length.

. . . . The mood around Springfield as the center opened seemed to be one more of dread than celebration. The problem is that the center is expected to lose a lot of money, at least at first. How much depends on who you talk to. A board member of SMEAA, the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, told the State Journal-Register recently that the center will lose no more than $100,000 a year once things get rolling and less if a new hotel ever gets built next door. SMEAA chairman Francis J. Budinger insists that the center eventually will break even. Springfield Mayor Mike Houston is more forthright when he points out that convention centers almost never make money. He has said that the expected first-year deficit of a half-million dollars is not likely to be either the biggest nor the last such deficit the center will face. . . .

The head of the local chamber of commerce has been quoted as saying that the center will generate from $20 million to $40 million in new business a year. That amounts to roughly a 50 percent increase in the city’s already large convention trade  – this even though many observers fear that the lack of downtown hotel space will limit the size and thus the number of conventions held in the city. The chamber has talked about transporting conventioneers in from the Motel Mile on the Interstate southeast of town where most of Springfield’s rooms are located – perhaps the only time the chamber will ever come out in favor of forced busing.

I remain hopeful but skeptical. I recall too well that it was some of these same people who predicted a few years ago that the opening of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site would boost tourist traffic on Eighth Street eightfold (it has instead dropped) and that Sangamon State University would have 10,000 students by now.

. . . . I confess I am not as excited as I might be that Springfield at last has a facility capable of staging the Yabba Dabba Doo Revue, or that we will be able to see at last the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, “the rip-snortin’-est, orneriest ton of animal ever to smash through a wall . . . recreate his spectacular television commercial stunts” as promised by the World’s Toughest Rodeo.

It would have been fun to end this piece with a fulmination against the injustice of my having to pay (through local property taxes and increased ticket prices at such events as the city basketball tournament) for the pleasure of the Lavernes and Shirleys who will troop into the center so the likes of Johnny Cash and the Harlem Globetrotters may take dead aim at the lower part of their collective brow.

Alas, in conscience I cannot. For what the Prairie Capital Convention Center is to roller skating fans, the new Lincoln Library is to me. Like the center, the library (which cost roughly 60 percent of what the center will cost to build) was advanced by a self-interested minority that presumed to decide what was good for the community in the face of widespread contrary opinion. Like the center, the library was built through subterfuge (in its case using the Public Building Commission to circumvent the voters who otherwise would have had to approve the tax increase that paid for it). Like the center, the library is paid for in part (the parallel is not precise) by a tax which few Springfieldians would pay if they had a say in it. Unlike the center, of course, the library genuinely adds to the cultural life of the city but, unlike the library, the center has a chance at least to make money. . . .  
Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.


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