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Convention Center Head Criticized

Tourism: Mayor denounces letter alerting prospective tenants of proposed arena. Manager says memo was intended to help the facility.


The head of the Los Angeles Convention Center was in hot water again Friday after warning prospective conventioneers that construction of a proposed sports arena next to the exhibition hall could affect events held there.

Mayor Richard Riordan was in Israel on Friday, but his office nonetheless issued a statement from him denouncing the letter by Convention Center Manager Dick Walsh because it could scare large groups of visitors--the very people Walsh is paid to bring to Los Angeles--and overstates concerns about the sports arena, a project championed by the mayor.

In Walsh's brief letter to more than 100 organizations ranging from the American Pharmaceutical Assn. to the Society of Landscape Architects--some are considering using the center and others already are booked there--the Convention Center manager referred to the city's offer to provide the North Hall site for a new home for the Kings and Lakers sports teams. The offer has not been accepted by arena developers, who also are negotiating with Inglewood; nor has it been approved by the City Council. Construction would begin in September 1997.

"Since these plans, if approved by the mayor and City Council, will have an impact on your future events, we wanted to apprise you of the situation and will keep you advised of developments," Walsh wrote.

He added that the the proposal calls for demolition of the North Hall, two adjacent private streets and the nearby open parking area west of the North Hall.

Walsh's letter was dated Aug. 28, the same day Riordan ordered the $131,607-a-year manager of the underbooked Convention Center to stop moonlighting as a consultant for a Hawaiian facility that could siphon away L.A. convention business.

Walsh has criticized the mayor for first approving the consulting work and then denouncing it. Two City Council members have called for his firing. And Riordan has put Walsh on notice that he will undergo "an overall performance evaluation" later this month.

But Walsh said his motive in sending the letter was to help the Convention Center.

"I'd never do anything to damage the center or the city," Walsh said Friday, adding that he was surprised by the reaction.

He simply wanted to alert conventioneers so there would be no surprises, Walsh said, and to keep the Convention Center's competitors from using the project against Los Angeles.

"The clients have got to be informed of what's happening," he said. "This is an industry where information is valuable and they have to know what's ahead. For many of them, it's not going to mean a thing, because they're not going to be impacted by the North Hall. But at least they know what's going on."

But in the statement issued Friday, the mayor's office said, "The mayor feels the letter wrongly implies future trouble and inconvenience, presents incomplete information and relegates managerial responsibility for customer service to the customer." Riordan's office said the mayor has sent an additional letter to Walsh expressing his sentiments, but would not release that letter.

Michael Collins, senior vice president of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, expressed concern that the letter could raise "apprehensions that need not be there."

Collins said the letter "introduces the prospect of inconvenience" instead of "doing what it should do, which is to celebrate" the proposed sports arena development. But Walsh said he cleared the letter with George Kirkland, president of the convention bureau.

Kathy Austin, vice president of the Video Software Dealers Assn., who received the letter last week, said Friday, "I wasn't aware there was any controversy. The letter didn't concern me."

She said the group was looking into holding a convention in Los Angeles but does not have definite plans yet.

Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this story.

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