By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The CEO of the newly expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center is confirming an analysis by a local news web site that bookings at the center are falling short of expectations.
And it seems that long-running labor issues are the key concern.
Axisphilly.org reporter Tom Ferrick, citing sources and internal documents, found that major bookings at the Convention Center are expected to decline starting next year, through 2016.
Ferrick says that as a result, the amount that conventioneers will spend will drop from $510 million this year to $230 million in 2016.
Convention Center CEO Ahmeenah Young admitted as much today to KYW Newsradio.
“Yes, there is (a decline in bookings), but there is a cycle we need to be aware of, of how these large conventions meet,” she said. “And we certainly had to recover from the actual expansion and construction, which put us out of one or two of the cycles for people meeting. But yes, there is a decline.”
Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, says his members are beyond disappointed.
“We were promised that we would get between 20 and 24 citywide conventions a year. There’s years, upcoming years, there’s not even eight citywide conventions,” he said.
And Grose minces no words in laying blame for the center’s issues: customer dissatisfaction with one of the unions that helps set up shows, the carpenters’ union.
“The more we look into the issues, more and more we’re hearing that it’s the carpenters who are not providing the customer service that’s needed in bringing people back,” Grose tells KYW Newsradio.
Carpenters’ union chief Ed Coryell Sr. did not return our call seeking comment.
Young, the Convention Center CEO, says all the unions who work there — including the carpenters — are committed to improving customer relations.
“To my knowledge, every single union in this building is willing to work toward resolving these issues,” she said.
And Grose, of the Hotel Association, believes the Convention Center board is trying to grapple with the labor issues.
“We’re very encouraged with how engaged the Convention Center board has been the last year,” he said. “We feel that it’s very solvable, because providing good customer service is not a difficult thing to do.”
But Grose admits that the national perception of the Pennsylvania Convention Center is not good because of labor costs, and that just solving the problems may not erase the perception.
“We’re going to need a ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “We’re going to really need to show that we mean business by fixing the issues over there.”
The expansion of the Convention Center was designed to draw mega-gatherings that the original facility could not handle. The cost of the expansion alone was just under $800 million, paid for by state taxpayers.