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Published: 2010-02-23

Conventional approach to business

ROD CAMERON may not be expecting it, but the convention centre expert from Vancouver is likely to become a focal point for an anti-P3 campaign in Halifax this week.

Cameron is set to deliver the ninth annual Carmichael lecture on Thursday at the World Trade and Convention Centre and is expected to present the case for convention centres as instruments for a broader economic development strategy.

No matter how positive his message may be, however, it may be blurred a bit by a campaign launched by the Canadian Union of Public Employees to block all future public-private partnerships.

The union argues that the contracts to build P3 schools in Nova Scotia were flawed and therefore all such partnerships are suspect.

But it isnít fair to prejudge all public-private projects, based on a bad experience in the past, without knowing the details of the agreement.

The new Nova Centre, proposed by developer Rank Inc. for the former Chronicle Herald lands in downtown Halifax, will include a larger and more modern convention facility, if governments agree to help fund that part of the approximately $300-million complex.

Construction of the convention centre portion alone has been estimated to cost about $100 million.

Cameron is the president of a management and marketing consultancy called Criterion Communications Inc., is executive director of Convention Centres of Canada and the international development director for the International Association of Congress Centres in Belgium.

Public-private partnerships bring in a wide range of choices, he told me in a phone conversation Monday.

There are many different models for P3s, but Cameron said the most successful are those where project development is separate from facility management.

"Iím saying that simply because the kinds of expertise required to do a good development are not often found in the same place where you also find the expertise to be successful marketers and operators for the final product."

Cameron said the convention business has become intensely competitive.

"A large part of the reason for that is the more enlightened of governments have figured out that having a convention centre isnít simply all about filling up hotel rooms . . . the folks that are thinking it through now are realizing that a convention centre should be an integral part of an overall economic development strategy."

A convention centre can be used to support broader aspirations to become a hub for all kinds of activities ó business, industrial, academic and professional ó and that realization has encouraged many jurisdictions to invest in convention centres, he said.

Therefore, any city that wants to remain competitive in the convention business needs to be prepared to invest.

"Because there is so much product available right now, if you fall behind, if youíre substandard, you simply get bypassed by the market."

More than anything, Cameron said, communities need to get their expectations straight in terms of what they want to get out of a convention centre.

"Having a centre means you have the opportunity to attract the type and to host the type of businesses that you want, but you still have to be very active, going out there and getting it and being able to compete effectively in order to get it."

The expectations of convention planners, he said, have changed quite a bit and often a 20-year-old facility like the one in Halifax cannot adapt to consumer demands.

"Redevelopment or construction of a new facility helps to make a community competitive again in a world where youíve got to be competitive in order to survive."

( rtaylor@herald.ca)

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© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited