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Don't Stint On Promotion

May 24, 2005

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 Hartford.

Convention center boosters need to make a strong case for restoring the funds.

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 Bureau.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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