"That means it's like moving into a new house--the structure's done, but you still need drapes and some other finishing touches," Watkins explained.
As construction proceeds, local officials may feel confident enough to book major conventions for late 1989, Durbin said.
"The key is to be absolutely honest," he said. "We can tell planners we'd be happy to take their group on a tentative basis, but let them know a date in 1989 isn't a guaranteed thing."
If that caveat emptor warning does not frighten off prospective conventioneers, another factor that could hinder local attempts to lure large meetings in late 1989 is the fact that many major trade associations book their conventions on a three- to eight-year cycle.
"Even if we can see in 1988 that the center's going to open on time, it may be too late in terms of 1989," Durbin said. "Once you miss these big conventions, you have to wait for the next cycle. A year or two usually isn't enough lead time."