Tim Zugger gets it. So, too, does Mary Conturo. And, it appears, so does Mark Popovich. So, what’s Craig Davis’ problem?
Zugger is general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Conturo is executive director of the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. And Popovich is senior managing director of HFF, a real estate brokerage firm.
They told the Post-Gazette that a massive (600 room) and massively expensive (nearly a quarter-billion dollars) new hotel attached to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center doesn’t make sense.
Not only has there been a plethora of privately built hotel rooms in Pittsburgh and its near suburbs, there’s little rationale and no appetite to attempt to shake down the public to build yet another edifice to poor public policy.
Then there’s Davis, CEO of VisitPittsburgh, the tourism group. He argues that since, per his calculations, tourism growth is outpacing the increase in hotel rooms (6.8 percent to 3.1 percent in 2018), it’s time to build that oft-shilled-for publicly financed convention center hotel.
Still, despite the private buildout of hotel rooms (that continues, by the way), not to mention an occupancy rate below 70 percent, Davis says lack of that “convention center hotel” has led to larger conventions bypassing the city.
Build it and they will come, Craig Davis argues. While slapping the faces of private investors who stepped up to risk their own capital to meet, if not exceed, the demand at respective points in time in pursuit of profit.
Speaking of government “juicing the market” to the detriment of private enterprise, the Post-Gazette also had a story this week asking: “Does Pittsburgh suddenly have too many concert venues?”
The story details how the live concert business is “jammin’” with “every market just rockin’ right now,” according to the founder of the Columbus, Ohio, company that operates Stage AE on the North Shore.
But, concomitantly, the story also wonders if the plethora of concert sites in the erstwhile Steel City will result in a shakeout that results in some of those sites buckling under increasingly intense “competition.”
To wit, the Penguins are planning yet another concert site as it redevelops the old Civic Arena tract in the Lower Hill District.
Do note how “competition” is placed in quotation marks. That’s because the Penguins coming site and Stage AE, owned by the Steelers, aren’t exactly free-market competitors.
Stage AE, you’ll recall, came to fruition with the aide of $2 million in public money on top of the fact that the Steelers (along with the Pirates) were handed development rights to the tract of land between Heinz Field and PNC Park.
And, do remember, the Penguins also were handed development rights to the old Igloo site.
That “competitive” market is anything but for at least two Pittsburgh concert site players.
Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org).