June 9, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Five days after the $271 million, state-owned Connecticut Convention
Center opened, the state legislature has approved a budget that cuts
the center's marketing and transportation spending by at least $800,000,
state officials said Wednesday.
"It's very likely it will have
an impact on the overall marketing budget, and it's likely it will
have an impact on the downtown circulator project," said Dean
Pagani, a spokesman for the Capital City Economic Development Authority.
The circulator is a bus that would connect the convention center
to downtown hotels.
Pagani said CCEDA's original budget request to the governor's office
was for $6 million. The governor reduced that figure to $5.5 million
in her proposed budget. Then, the legislature's appropriations committee
cut that by $1.8 million, only to reduce the cut to just $800,000
last week before passing the budget.
That leaves CCEDA's budget at about $4.7 million for the upcoming
year - $700,000 in operating expenses for the agency, a $2 million
operating subsidy for the convention center and $2 million for marketing,
Pagani said. The marketing dollars are spent by the Greater Hartford
Convention and Visitors Bureau, with which CCEDA contracts to sell
the convention center to large conventions that would fill several
Last week, state Rep. Denise W.
Merrill, D-Mansfield, a main budget negotiator, said the legislature
planned to reduce its cut to the CCEDA budget after some initial
skepticism "because I'm convinced
they're going to do a good job with it."
The $4.7 million figure spells two types of trouble for the building's
marketing future, CCEDA and visitors' bureau officials said. First,
it's a reduction in funding - for 2005, CCEDA gave the visitors'
bureau $2.4 million; for 2006, CCEDA will give $2 million.
But second, because the $2 million operating subsidy is less than
what could be a $2.5 million need, the difference will have to be
financed somehow, Pagani said.
And that somehow would most likely be the marketing budget, he said.
"If [the operating subsidy] goes higher, then it's going to
force the CCEDA board to reconfigure the budget," Pagani said. "So
there could be even more of an impact."
That's bad news for H. Scott Phelps, head of the visitors' bureau.
"It's a significant drop in revenue, no question about it," said
Phelps, whose total annual budget is $2.9 million. The result, he
said, would likely be less advertising in national convention industry
magazines and less participation in trade shows that promote the
facility, he said.
"There's a sense of frustration there because of the momentum
we've built up," Phelps said. "We're feeling very good
about the sale effort. We're getting excellent responses, and we
just want to keep that momentum going. You don't want to have any
kind of a push-back."
"It's very difficult to make everyone understand that we're
in the business of importing dollars earned in other states and bringing
them here," he said. "It really is pure economic development."
Arthur L. Handman, executive director of the Greater Hartford Transit
District, said the cut in CCEDA funding puts the plan to run a circulator
bus from the convention center to the city's hotels on hold. Handman
is on the visitors' bureau's transportation committee.
Federal funding for the buses themselves has been identified, he
said. Now it's just the operating budget he's waiting on.
"I was anticipating the worst, but I was optimistic in this
case. I thought we would have the money," Handman said, comparing
the $648,000 cost to operate the circulator with the total investment
in the $271 million facility. "It doesn't make any sense to
State Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey,
D-Hartford, said she was distressed to hear of the initial cut
at the appropriations committee, and fought to have the money restored. "It's almost like you were asking
for it to fail," she said. Then, when budget negotiators restored
$1 million of the $1.8 million, she fought for the rest, she said.
"Being that this is their first year out of the chute, we thought
we'd have to spend a little," she said. But her plea fell on "deaf
ears," she said, and the $800,000 was no longer available.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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