Friday, May 9, 2014

Who's the Boss?

Walking by the main entrance of Philadelphia's lavish convention center, one might wonder when it's scheduled to open. Its escalators stand idle and unused, its doors locked. During conventions, signs direct conventioneers to 12th and Arch.

When the state decided to expand the center there were more jeers than cheers, concerns that have proven themselves valid. Even before the expansion, the Pennsylvania Convention Center had developed a reputation amongst those responsible for touring expositions. It was expensive and its unions slow and difficult to work with.

The desolate Broad Street entrance, often lined with sleeping homeless is a symbol of the center's epic failure. The hotels its expansion promised never materialized. New restaurants and stores along Broad Street should have been the end result of larger conventions and more business, but the center's decline has caused little more than a few new surface parking spaces along Vine Street.

The reasons are endless. The state isn't particularly savvy when it comes to predicting the future. In fact, the paper pushers in Harrisburg and City Hall are perpetually a decade behind. Convention facilities are in decline in general. Most still serve a purpose, but in ten years or less, technology and telecommuting will render inner city convention spaces useless for business conventions. They'll be left hosting Flower Shows and old car exhibits. Considering the PCC could never recoup its nearly $1B price tag by 2024, the expansion was a shortsighted investment.

What's worse, PCC management didn't resolve its customer service issues before agreeing to expand. They just blindly grew. If a homeowner can't pay a mortgage, the bank doesn't give them a Home Depot gift card and tell them to add another bedroom. The PCC's entire drama has been an example of the absolute worst kind of business and government oversight since it began in the early 1990s. The city already had a convention space: Convention Hall. But the state gambled on a new facility, and when the cards hit 22, they threw more money at it like an addict in Atlantic City.

But it looks like those in charge have finally decided to go to rehab. The center has drafted a new labor contract, one that grants conventioneers more freedom to construct their own exhibits, use electric screwdrivers and step ladders, and request drug tests. It's sad that any of that seems unheard of, but the Jerseyvania Triangle is a hotbed of union "muscle." So much so, only four of the six unions employed at the PCC have agreed to the new rules. Carpenters Local 8 and Teamsters Local 107 have declined the new contract and will likely drag out the inflatable rat.

However, the resistance of the two holdouts may prove to be an ultimate baby step. If the center can weather a few months or protests, the long term outcome could be a step towards the PCC recouping part of its investment, and more importantly, it's reputation. The four unions that agreed to the new terms are more than enough to carry the load. If the center's line is firmly drawn, there's no reason to continue working with unions unwilling to recognize who's the boss.

We all know it was Mona.

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