Convention Center officials study privatization

The management of the Pennsylvania Convention Center faces the possibility of being outsourced. – -ABDUL SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board will hold a special meeting in two weeks to determine whether all management of the center will be outsourced.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, PCCA Chairman Gregory J. Fox said the authority is reviewing outsourcing management of the center because of concerns about sales of meetings and conventions to fill the center for 2015 and 2016.

“The issue is, we’re in a very competitive environment in terms of bookings. The booking reports for future years are not where we would want them to be. The question is can that issue be at least partially alleviated through private management, as opposed to public management,” said Fox.

Last year, PCCA awarded a consulting-services contract to Public Financial Management Inc., to study privatizing or outsourcing the center’s management.

Board member Ryan Boyer raised questions about the viability of outsourcing management.

“The biggest problem is the problem of labor relations - and the labor broker is a private manager, so privatization hasn’t worked so far, so why would we double down on privatization when it hasn’t worked in the labor scope?” Boyer told the Tribune.

Heather Steinmiller said she opposes privatization because many of center’s problems stem from labor concerns and sales – two areas that have already been contracted out. Steinmiller said PCC customers have identified the center’s inability to deliver cost-effective labor as a problem. The labor situation has been hampering efforts to book potential conventions.

“There are men and women whose livelihoods depend on this building. There is a real urgency in addressing the problems that are preventing us from filling this building,” Steinmiller said in an interview with the Tribune.

The convention center impacts Philadelphia’s hospitality workforce of about 50,000.

Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau said labor commitments made with PCC customers are not being honored.

“The challenges for Philadelphia have been with the promises that were delivered in the center – regardless of what they are,” Ferguson told the board members.

The upcoming vote on whether to outsource management is likely to split along partisan lines with the Republican majority of the board in favor.

The possibility of outsourcing center management comes as Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration has undertaken efforts to privatize the Pennsylvania state lottery and liquor stores.

During the meeting, the PCCA board voted to ban the Carpenter’s Union from working in the center unless they comply with the center’s drug-free workplace policy. The drug-free policy, which was adopted in March 2011, requires everyone working in convention center to report for drug and or/alcohol testing in accordance with state law. All of the unions signed an agreement indicating compliance with the policy.

Testing went into effect on Jan. 7. The board said staff and members of the other five unions have all undergone drug testing in recent weeks, however, the Carpenter’s Union has not complied.

The PCCA board passed a resolution calling for all labor unions to comply with the policy by Saturday or risk being barred from working in the center.

Ed Coryell, head of the Carpenters Union, did not return calls seeking comment as of the Tribune’s deadline.

During the board’s discussion, members said labor supplier Elliot-Lewis should be held more accountable.

 

Contact Staff Writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or ajones@phillytrib.com.

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