A little-noticed cut in the Capital City Economic Development
Authority budget made by the General Assembly's Appropriations
Committee could spell real trouble for the Connecticut Convention
Center, the huge new visitor magnet about to open in downtown
Convention center boosters need to make a strong case for restoring
CCEDA, the quasi-public agency
created by former Gov. John G. Rowland and lawmakers to oversee
the development of Adriaen's Landing and other downtown "pillars of progress," had
asked for $6 million in state support for the fiscal year beginning
July 1. Gov. M. Jodi Rell sliced a half-million dollars from
the CCEDA account when she presented her executive budget.
That amount could be managed, but then the Appropriations Committee
took a much bigger bite - $1.8 million - out of the authority's
budget for next year. On the surface, this doesn't make a lot
of sense. The state will spend some $270 million just to open
the convention center's doors. And now the budget-writing committee
wants to stint on the budget of the authority that will oversee
the convention center's operations? A big portion of CCEDA's
budget goes for marketing the new facility - wooing convention
and meeting planners across the nation. Much of this crucial
work is done by the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors
The inevitable consequence of reduced marketing would seem to
be fewer conventions. That, of course, would defeat the purpose
of the convention center and could put the place on the fast
track to white elephant status before it's been given a chance.
Rep. Denise Merrill, co-chairwoman of Appropriations, said she
is leery of giving any quasi-public authority a check without
seeing a plan for how the money will be spent. So far, she says,
CCEDA has not produced a persuasive plan. Hers is not an unreasonable
concern. Quasi-publics should be regularly scrutinized by the
bodies that create them.
That said, it could be a disaster if there is not enough money
available to effectively market the new convention center as
a destination for out-of-towners. CCEDA and state lawmakers should
get on the same page, and quickly.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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