Tim Hunter, the CEO of Canterbury Tourism, writes a stirring opinion piece about the pros and pros of the proposed convention centre. It’s his job to promote this boondoggle, so you can’t criticise him for that. You can criticise him for the very poor arguments he puts up. He says there are “eight compelling reasons”. Let’s go through them:
1. Job Creation
There is a long, convoluted paragraph which takes a bunch of hypothetical numbers, inflates them, multiplies them, and then uses this to say that it will create lots of jobs. I think you could go through all the assumptions, but rather than that, just look at the final sentence:
The good news is that many of these jobs will be available to students and younger employees on a part-time basis.
Good news? This is good news? Essentially, what he is saying is that $500m plus of investment is going to result in a handful of low-paid, part time jobs in the hospitality sector. This is not good news. There are many ways in which the government could better spend $300m if the outcome was “jobs”. They could start by putting that money back into fixing the city’s horizontal infrastructure, which would not only directly employ a large number of people, but would also improve the quality of life for everyone in the city, not just the few who attend conferences.
2. Significant economic benefits
Yeah. The economic benefits of convention centres have been wildly overstated. Probably the most comprehensive piece on this is from Gordon Campbell. But long story short – we’re a small country with a tiny domestic convention market at the arse end of the world, in which at least half a dozen regions are building conventions centres to try and attract hypothetical conventions away from the other centres. It doesn’t add up.
3. Government gift
The taxpayers of New Zealand are bestowing a “gift” upon Christchurch that they haven’t been asked to give to a city that hasn’t asked for it. Bizarre reasoning from Hunter.
4. Stimulating our knowledge economy
If the government wanted to stimulate our knowledge economy, then they would take this $300m and put it into the research and development sector. Hobnobbing at a $1000 plus registration conference might make the Minister for Business and Innovation feel good, but it doesn’t contribute much to innovation and development. This money could be put aside in a fund to stop some of our best Post-doc researchers from leaving the country when they don’t get a piece of the pittance of money that is available through competition research funding.
5. Tourism and hospitality boost
I don’t really see how this differs much from point number 1, except this is meant to help the hospitality sector over the quiet winter months. If your business can’t plan for things that happen every year, like the seasons changing, then I think you’re doing businessing wrong, and I’m not sure how a convention centre is going to magically fix that.
6. Investment catalyst
A good number of investors have new hotel projects planned for Christchurch that will only be activated once construction of the Convention and Exhibition Centre commences.
Another way of putting that sentence would be: “Philip Carter, brother of the current speaker of the house and one of the South Island’s richest men, is waiting to see if the government puts money into the convention centre that he is a partner in the construction of, before he invests to fix the hotels he owns which have been given favourable terms of operation.” That these hotels “will only be activated” once the convention centre begins sounds vaguely threatening, as if Murray McCully needs to come down with some sheep and a facilitation payment.
7. Attractive precinct design
Well, I think we can agree to disagree on this point.
8. More efficient
This centre is going to be more efficient than the last one, which was of course built less than 20 years ago for $15 million dollars. If a centre being built two decades later, for more than 30 times the cost of the previous one, wasn’t “more efficient” than the last one, then we’d have to find some new and more efficient ways to fire the project managers.