A year ago the fate of the Pennsylvania Convention Center was uncertain. The state promised its expansion would bring more hotels, but could barely find customers to fill the rooms we already had. Although the state might never admit that their $1B investment was failing, the center had an abysmal rate of returning conventions and a notorious reputation due to its costly labor and frustrating rules.
But things are changing for the convention center and the unions.
Management ousted the Teamsters and Carpenters, retaining just three unions capable of doing their jobs. One union member filed a charge against Local 107, claiming he wasn't appropriately represented, signaling that support for the most stubborn unions may be beginning to unravel from within.
The center relaxed their rules allowing vendors to use electric screwdrivers and set up larger displays on their own.
And word is getting out.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association hasn't held a convention in Philadelphia since 2007. The group's executive director, Peter O'Neil echoed the frustration of many citing "onerous work rules and limitations on exhibitors" as the reason they've stayed away.
But thanks to the center's improvements, they're coming back in 2018, renting 16,000 hotel rooms. One convention four years from now may seem irrelevant, but the events industry is a very informed one. It's their job, and word resonates fast within their community.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center has always had a unique advantage. It's in the middle of a major city. It's connected to the Marriott at 12th and Market. It's close to restaurants, nightlife, and tourist attractions. The location is as good as it gets. That's why the few conventions that have chosen to return, continue to return. The industry loves the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It's only flaw was its employees.
Other cities have built their convention centers in worn neighborhoods and built creature comforts around the spaces. Many are islands of new business detached from the city. In Philadelphia, that infrastructure has always been in place, it just hasn't been maximized. But soon the gloomy bridge between the Convention Center and Midtown Village will be filled with restaurants at East Market and the Gallery's facelift will provide a desirable shopping mall connected to the center.
The new rules give our center a huge advantage over centers in DC, New York, and Baltimore that still retain the frustrating caveat of uncompromising unions. Obviously Philadelphia can't compete with better weather in Las Vegas or San Diego, but if New York moves its center to Queens, Philadelphia may soon own the Northeast's convention market.