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Will Planned Conference Center become Arlington's White Elephant?

In his New Year's Day 2005 speech, County Board chairman Jay Fisette said that Arlington must 'grow smart' and specifically identified the proposed conference center in Pentagon City as the first of three 'strategic investments' that the Board 'must target.' Two questions come to mind. Does a taxpayer-subsidized conference center make economic sense? And, if a conference center makes economic sense, then why isn't the private sector building it? A new study from the Brookings Institution suggests the County Board should take a very long look at the economic numbers supporting the planned center. Their conclusion said, "This analysis should give local leaders pause as they consider calls for ever more public investment into the convention business, while weighing simultaneously where else scarce public funds could be spent to boost the urban economy. The Brookings study found that not only is "(t)he overall convention marketplace . . . declining" but "(f)aced with increased competition, many cities spend more money on additional convention amenities, like publicly-financed hotels." The January 2004 issue of Virginia Business featured an article noting that "(m)any Virginia cities are building convention centers" and went on to ask whether they are worth it. For this we pay taxes?

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