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Linda W. Cropp, Chairman, DC City Council
Testimony to the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
July 15, 1998




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Good morning, Chairman Davis, Congresswoman Norton, and other Members of the House Subcommittee on the District of Columbia. Thank you for the opportunity to make a few remarks prior to turning to my colleague, Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development, will present the local legislative position in support of the financing for the proposed new convention center at Mount Vernon Square.

First, let me thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your continuing support for the proposed new convention center at Mount Vernon Square, and for the expeditiousness with which you scheduled this hearing today following the Council's final approval of the financing plan and the street and alley closing legislation this past month. Let me also extend my public appreciation to Mrs. Jarvis and to all of the public and private sector partners whose hard work, patience, and prudent oversight have helped moved this important project forward in a responsible way.

No one questions the need to build a better-designed and larger Washington convention center facility in order to regain the convention market and economic spin-off which the city — and the region — have lost in recent years. Tourism is the District's number one industry, and the success of the new Washington Convention Center is absolutely essential to the revitalization of our economy. The new center will also provide significant benefits, without cost, to the economies of our surrounding jurisdictions.

Operation of the new expanded center is expected to generate direct spending in the District of approximately $618 million in the first year of operation, which will grow to $776 million in the fifth year of operation. This is business the city desperately needs to increase local revenues that will help fund the Council's twin priorities of improved service delivery and tax cuts for both our residents and our businesses. Additionally, the new convention center will directly and indirectly generate 8,550 full and part-time jobs for District residents in the first year of operation, which again will grow to nearly 10,000 jobs by the fifth year of operation.

The current Washington Convention Center opened in 1983 as the fourth largest facility in the United States with 380,000 square feet of exhibit space. Today, however, the current center ranks 30th in size and can compete for only 54 percent of large national shows and meetings. The economic impact associated with these lost events is scores of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the city every year!

The new expanded center to be built north of Mount Vernon Square is a beautifully designed facility with architectural elements that are sensitive to the surrounding Shaw community. The center and its site were unanimously approved by a 6-0 vote of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2-C where the facility is proposed to be located, and also by a unanimous vote in favor by the neighboring Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2-F. The proposed center and its location also have been supported by the Mount Vernon Business Alliance, which represents most of the existing businesses surrounding the site, and by a majority of the Shaw neighborhood residents who have testified at several public hearings by the Council on this matter. As a result of the input of the Shaw community and others, many measures will be implemented to mitigate possible adverse environmental and historic impacts, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, and as required by the National Capital Planning Commission in its approval of the site and design for this project.

When the new 2.3 million square-foot facility opens in the year 2003, the Washington Convention Center will again rank amongst the largest in the nation and be able to capture nearly 90% of the total convention market, including all of the targeted customers that we seek amongst the professional and business associations, and the medical and high technology industries. The new expanded center will include:

  • 725,000 square feet of exhibit space — which is almost twice the amount of exhibit space as the current center.
  • 150,000 square feet of meeting space — which is over three times the amount of meeting space in the current center.
  • A 60,000 square foot ballroom — the largest on the East Coast.

To the extent that future expansion of the new center may be needed to accommodate the targeted convention market after a decade of operations, convention center officials have conceptually determined that it would be feasible — both architecturally and financially — to link the new Mount Vernon Square facility with the existing city-owned convention center site, which is only one block away. Moreover, such future linkage and expansion could be privately developed, maximizing the economic impact of the new center at no cost to the District.

A few opponents still question the siting and cost of the new facility at Mount Vernon Square. But recent analyses by the Financial Authority and by the Chief Financial Officer of the tax revenues that will support the $650 million in total costs to the District for developing the new center, along with the financial study by Coopers and Lybrand, all confirm what previous environmental impact and feasibility studies have demonstrated: The city will receive the biggest bang for its buck by building a larger- sized and better-designed convention center closer to the heart of downtown.

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I urge your committee to take the final steps necessary to allow groundbreaking to begin this fall on this critical economic development project for the nation’s capital, and for the region. Specifically, we seek Congressional adoption of legislation which:

  • Explicitly authorizes the Washington Convention Center Authority to issue up to $650 million in bonds to finance construction of the new convention center;
  • Includes within the Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriations Act the $25 million to METRO for improvements to the subway station at Mount Vernon Square; and
  • Waives the Congressional review periods for the convention center financing and street and alley closing legislation, which were adopted by the Council last month.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit for your record copies of the Council committee reports which were adopted last month on the financing plan amendments and the street and alley closing legislation.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I am available of course for questions following the testimony of Councilmember Jarvis and others.

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