Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gambling discussions at The Press Club of Western PA

Lots of interesting things happened with a lunch discussion today hosted by the Press Club. Great event with lots of information for the typical citizen. I'm was keen to discover a few things that are 'in the margins' of the story that might come today from the standard outlets.

The Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Vistors Breau, a group that is funded by tax money, holds CLOSED Board Meetings. And, the Chair of that organization didn't even know it.

B.J. Leber (Chair of the Vistors & Convention Breau) and Senior Vice President and Station Manager of WQED Multimedia, also didn't know that WQED isn't going to host a Mayor's debate.

Through all the discussions, I still have yet to hear a valid objection as to why the Convention Center should not be home to the new gambling casino that is sure to come to Pittsburgh in the future. Mayor Murphy said, "We can't do that." But I think he is really saying, "I don't want to do that."

Murphy also put his abrasive personality into high gear as he scolded the locals for not doing their job. I think he was speaking to the media for its less than full-monty coverage of the associated gambling stories. Murphy wants more "transparent" elements -- for everyone else but not him. Murphy would NOT talk about some of the back-room deals that are rumored to be cut. Murphy would not name names. Murphy said some matters are 'no secret' -- but he just did so with a tease and wink and a shrug.

The state put in $150-million for the building of the Convention Center. That is money out of our (PA taxpayers) back pocket. Plus, there was to be another $150-million put in from other, local sources. But, they over-runs ran an extra $70-million or so. So, it is safe to say we paid nearly $400-million on the convention center. Or, we've paid more than $300-million and we still owe that amount.

Annually, the convention center's operation runs into the red and costs the S&A (our authority) about $3.4 million. The annual operation deficit for this one year that was not able to be covered by the annual budget was $1-million. So, annually, if this year is any proof, the convention center is a drain on the local public budgets of about $4 to $5-million.

The Vistors & Convention Breau got a good bit of money from the state at start-up, decades ago. Plus, it runs on the hotel tax.

Remember, the Vistors and Convention Center has closed board meetings. That sucks.

Furthermore, at the next board meeting, all the big hitters who are expected to put in a bid for the Pittsburgh Gambling License have been invited to present to the board. This is to consider how the gambling might impact on the convention center.

The Convention Center has a lot of religious groups. There are certain populations that are NOT interested in going to a convention city and needing to deal with gambling. They'll not want to use Pittsburgh as a destination for their events in the future.

The value of the Convention Center, according to my way of thinking, is going to go lower and lower. The Convention Center is a white elephant now that costs a lot of money from various public sources. In the future, after gambling arrives, it is going to be less viable than it is today. The Convention Center's expenses might double from their highs of today.

In his statements and presentation, Mayor Murphy talked about the 'footprint' of the new gambling casino. It is going to be huge, he said. It will take up all of Point State Park -- as a reference. It will be as big as the footprint of PNC Park -- as another point of reference. Jeepers. That fits within the existing Convention Center. Mayor Murphy supports the thinking and logic of putting the casino within the vast, under-utilized Convention Center.

Mayor Murphy also expressed some finance needs. The new casino operator is going to pay $50-million for the license (that does not expire). About another $40-$60-million for the slot machines. And, about $300-million for the building. Jeepers. We'll sell them the Convention Center for $300-million.

There are many other points and counter-points to make about this gambling saga. All points lead to a logical conclusion when you 'think again.' Put the casino into the existing, well-designed, river-front, non-neighborhood, parking rich, hotel accessible, green, CONVENTION CENTER. Then the public can profit in many ways -- to cover some of the sins of the past and get out from many of the anchors for future budgets.

If we make a push for this -- the gambling casino could open as soon as the departure of the All Star Game -- in the Convention Center -- July 2006. That's the challenge. Do it now. Do it quickly. Do it with the best property we have that is not performing well. Turn the weakness into an asset for the private operator.

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