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Jim Schulman
Regarding the New Convention Center
Testimony to the City Council Committees on Finance and Revenue and Economic Development
May 29, 1998




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Testimony before the D.C. City Council
Regarding the financing plan for the proposed new Washington Convention Center

by Jim Schulman, ANC 6A04

Presented 29 May 1998

Madam Chairman and Council members, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to testify. My name is Jim Schulman. I represent ANC single member district 6A04, am a Registered Architect, practicing in the District, am a member of the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Council, and for the financing issue before us today, am primarily speaking on behalf of the Citizens for Socially Responsible Tax Reform, a regional, non-partisan group that has testified before various City Council committees in the past.

We applaud the tax changes that have been proposed, specifically the limitation of cost overrun tax increases to hotel stays, and the elimination of franchise tax contributions to this project. We still disagree, however, with the restaurant meal and rental car taxes. These are taxes paid by D.C. residents as well as out-of-town conventioneers.

We object to the WCCA being given a dedicated stream of tax dollars. They have shown, again and again, an inability to responsibly handle public funds. The continued absence of a guaranteed maximum price reinforces our concern.

We also recommend against the creation of flat percentage revenue streams for the tourism and convention marketing “organizations.” Why can not these services be put out to bid like many other city services? Hypothetically, if the new convention center were to be as successful as the proponents argue, and were to be leased up a decade into the future, why then continue funding these services? D.C. taxpayers should not bankroll another slush fund.

The D.C. Tax Revision Commission, which, as you know, was convened by the City Council, recently issued their final report. It recommended against dedicated taxes, that is, taxes which do not flow from the general fund, but are held aside for special purposes. Our citizen's group for tax reform concurs with this recommendation, because it can keep critical tax dollars from being spent on annual priorities. There may be other ways in which the legislation being reviewed today conflicts with the Tax Revision Commission’s recommendations, but we were not able to conduct a full examination in the limited time available to determine this. The Council may well want to submit this legislation to the Tax Revision Commission for their review.

With respect to the design of the proposed convention center, we are concerned that the City Council and taxpayers will not get what we are paying for. I refer here to the sustainable energy goals in the engineering of the structure, as specified in a section of D.C. Law (9-705), published in the D.C. Register on August 12th, 1994, page 5337. This law specifies:

Section 204. Limitations on Authority's powers

“With regard to the design of the New Convention Center:

(1) The Authority shall design and construct a New Convention Center to minimize the life cycle cost, and dependence on petroleum-based fuels of the facility by utilizing energy efficiency, water conservation, or solar or other renewable energy technologies.

(2) The Authority shall ensure that the design and construction of the New Convention Center shall employ state-of-the-art design, engineering, and technology to minimize energy consumption per-gross-square-foot to the extent that the payback period for capital costs incurred to reduce annual operating costs shall be less than 10 years.”

Designing and engineering buildings using renewable forms of energy can yield great savings on the required size of equipment and backup systems, provided that the renewable energy systems are not installed in a piecemeal fashion. It is not clear from the information provided to the public that the required state-of-the-art systems have been specified on this project. If so, the design is not in compliance with District law.

Lastly, as a citizen and an architect, I must reiterate that I believe that the convention center is sited inappropriately. If built, I believe that it will lead inevitably, due to the northward creep of downtown office type development and rent increases, to the disappearance of Shaw as a residential neighborhood. Siting the convention center at Mt. Vernon Square will give Shaw the ultimate “historic” designation.

Thank you again, for giving us this opportunity to be heard.

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