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July 30, 2004
On Second Thought, Maybe They're All Cheap

After the largest party that Boston's seen in decades, the Los Angeles Times reports that the hangover may be arriving -- and unfortunately for the Democrats and Mayor Thomas Menino, it will be much larger than first anticipated:

In a full-page ad in the city's two major newspapers, Mayor Thomas M. Menino offered residents a weekend of free parking, free concerts, discounted shopping even reduced rates on Boston's quirky duck tours, amphibious vessels that are a quintessential tourist attraction. ...

The goodwill gesture came in response to bitter complaints about disappointing revenue and angry questions about the benefits of bringing 35,000 people to town for the Democratic National Convention. Officials Thursday stood by predictions that the first national nominating convention in the city's history would bring $154 million to Boston in a year's time. Experts on urban economics also said political conventions could be windfalls to the cities that hold them.

But the rosy long-range forecast and the mayor's appreciative missive felt hollow to restaurateurs whose convention-week business plummeted by 70% or more, hoteliers who had more empty rooms than they bargained for and residents who fled rather than endure transportation and security headaches.

When bargaining to hold events like this in cities, local politicians like to impress voters by promising them millions in revenue from the multitudes that travel to be part of them. However, with political conventions, the only throngs one sees are delegates (who have long days inside the arena), media (who have to cover all of the events), and protestors (who don't exactly toss money around anyway). The nature of a convention requires vast amounts of security, which impacts local budgets as well as state and federal. In this case, it will continue to impact Beantown as the timing forced the city to arbitrate its labor dispute with police and fire personnel in order to avoid security gaps as well as embarrassment.

Throw in the traffic nightmares that an influx of 35,000 people create, and you have a recipe for disaster, as locals go elsewhere for entertainment and visitors go to the Fleet Center. Boston merchants certainly understand it now:

Gretchen Chauncey, general manager of the Chandler Inn in Boston's South End, said that in daily calls to fellow innkeepers, he found that hotels were averaging about 70% occupancy despite the crush of visitors. Usually at this time of year, she said, "you would expect to be running in the 80% to 85% range."

On Newbury Street, the most fashionable address in the city's chic Back Bay, Don Cannon was so enthusiastic about the convention that he hung a giant sign that read "Art is Democratic" in front of his gallery, the Copley Society of Art. But "even the normal flow of traffic" failed to materialize, Cannon said, as local customers bolted to avoid crowds, closed roads and a law enforcement presence that gave Boston the air of a police state.

The empty parking spaces on Newbury Street "tell you everything you need to know about the effect of the DNC," he said.

New York has to look at this with some concern. If anything, local security will be even costlier. The Big Apple has to hope that traffic woes don't keep the locals from their shops and that Republicans spend a bit more freely than their Democratic counterparts.

I plan on helping in any way I can ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 30, 2004 6:05 AM

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