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More Convention Centers Coming Under Scrutiny

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Next month, streets around the Raleigh Convention Center will be blocked and traffic will be rerouted, as construction on the new convention center begins. It comes at a time when building new convention halls has come under scrutiny across the country.

Raleigh City Councilman Mike Regan is so opposed to a new convention center that he does not even show up to special meetings on the topic.

"Everything says No, No, No, but yet the City Council continues to move forward with this thing," he said.

An article on the front page of Monday's USA Today examines new convention centers. In the past five years, 53 cities have built or expanded convention centers. Another 44 cities are now building new ones. The article cites Raleigh as an example. It said cities are spending millions when attendance at trade shows has dropped sharply.

"The facts continue to say don't build a convention center. The only thing that seems to argue for a convention center is some sort of wishful thinking, some sort of 'We have to do something to save downtown,' and this definitely isn't it," Regan said.

According to a Washington think-tank, from 1997 to 2003, convention center attendance was off 325,000 in Atlanta, 445,000 in New York and 162,000 in New Orleans. With teleconferencing and other technology, the need for person-to-person meetings is decreasing.

"We need to be concerned about that," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Meeker said Raleigh's center is only one-third of the size of those in larger cities. He said the goal is to lure business from Charlotte, Greensboro and Columbia, S.C.

"Our primary market is statewide and regional, not to compete with New York or Chicago but to folks coming to smaller facilities," he said.

The Washington think-tank found that taxpayer spending for convention centers has doubled in 10 years. Regan is so sure the Raleigh project will fail that he does not want his name on the plaque because he does not want to be blamed.


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