Friday, February 03, 2006

St. Charles Convening

St. Charles Convening

The City of St. Charles and St. Charles County governments have invested a great deal of time and money into building and operating the Family Arena and St. Charles Convention Center (SCCC) in recent years.

But a lot of the major events they've lured have come at the expense of downtown St. Louis, such as the Working Women's Survival Show formerly held at America's Center for almost twenty years, or the Moolah Shrine Circus formerly held at the old Busch Memorial Stadium for more than twenty years.

I have in the past attended both these events at their downtown St. Louis locations. I don't intend to attend either at the St. Charles locations.

It's hard enough to attract out-of-town conventions to downtown. Now, with these venues (the Family Arena opened in 1999 and the SCCC in 2005), even local-crowd oriented events are shifting out of downtown.

Sure, other municipalities have their own small convention halls, like the Gateway Center in Collinsville IL, the Belle-Claire Expo Hall in Belleville IL, and the Wentzville Crossing Expo Center (fka Belz Factory Outlet Mall) in Wentzville MO. The SCCC has also taken some business from the Wentzville place. But none of these are as large as the SCCC, which is itself significantly smaller than the behemoth America's Center.

We're fighting over declining tourist and day-event revenues. While the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission does represent some level of regional collaboration by the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County governments, there's still a separate Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for St. Charles County, another for the Alton IL region, and the Tourism Bureau of Southwestern Illinois based in Fairview Heights IL which serves an eight-county region (excluding the Alton area of course). Washington MO in Franklin County also has its own CVB.

Collinsville used to have its own CVB but that closed last year, and the operation of the Gateway Center was taken over by the local Chamber of Commerce. Even though it's located inside St. Louis County, there's a small Maryland Heights CVB.

It's such a ridiculously fragmented strategy. Perhaps if the St. Louis CVC can develop a better reputation for itself by attracting more large conventions and promoting the development of existing and new tourist attractions, as a recent South Side Journal article mentions, then maybe someday we can envision a coordinated convention and tourism strategy for the entire metropolitan St. Louis region.

Maybe. But, more likely, we'll just keep moving stuff around, kind of like the way munis compete over a declining or static retail base using TIF and eminent domain.

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