Should the city get out of the business of operating the Los Angeles Convention… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)
For decades, the Los Angeles Convention Center, that drab behemoth on the south edge of downtown, has done a serviceable job of providing space for local trade and consumer shows, most notably the Auto Show. But if Los Angeles officials want it to be competitive on a national level and generate more revenue — enough to make it worth keeping — then the city needs to get out of the business of operating it.
That is the centerpiece of a proposal to revamp the marketing and management of the Convention Center that will come before the City Council next month. Creating a public-private partnership that would turn over operations to a management firm would be a smart move by the city (and one that other cities with big convention business, including Chicago and Detroit, have already done). Wherever possible, Los Angeles needs to concentrate on the work that is part of its core mission — policing, firefighting and transportation — and partner with private operators to take on other jobs.
As the city's chief administrative officer, Miguel Santana, noted in a memo to City Council members, a convention center needs to make quick decisions to satisfy clients and keep them coming back. Those are not the hallmarks of city government, and it's especially difficult at the L.A. Convention Center, whose financing, legal and administrative functions are divided among various city departments.
The other essential part of this plan involves improved marketing of the Convention Center. That would require streamlining the chain of command and refocusing the center's efforts away from trade shows and toward larger conventions that bring in out-of-town visitors. City officials propose to have the existing Los Angeles Convention Center Commission operate as a board of commissioners that would advise the mayor and council on marketing the center and tourism policies in general. It would also oversee bookings of the center.
Whether or not AEG succeeds in building a football stadium that would anchor a retrofitted Convention Center, the city should move ahead to privatize operations. The center today is a drag on the city budget. But downtown has grown up around it and given it a new chance. Better marketing and a private operator represent the Convention Center's best opportunity to become an asset.