Convention Center search on for companies to privatize functions

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority has issued a request for qualifications.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority has issued a request for qualifications. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff)
Posted: September 02, 2012

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority announced Friday that it has begun looking for companies that are qualified to help run the Convention Center.

The move had been expected. The PCCA board said it issued a formal request for qualifications, or RFQ, from firms. Board chairman Gregory J. Fox had said earlier he wanted the letter sent out by the end of August.

The 15-member board voted Aug. 15 to examine other options to operate the Convention Center, which completed a $786 million expansion in March 2011.

"The board has issued the RFQ as part of its ongoing obligation to Pennsylvania taxpayers to ensure that the center is running at maximum efficiency and competitiveness," Fox said in a statement Friday. "The purpose of the RFQ is to gather information, and we look forward to obtaining responses from all qualified firms who wish to participate."

Among the specialties the board said it was seeking were "substantial urban convention center maintenance and operation experience"; "advanced knowledge of convention center facility maintenance, repair, construction" and "effective marketing and event management . . . including the ability to generate more events and higher revenue."

Fox read a draft of the RFQ to The Inquirer on Aug. 16, the day after the board vote. Fox said he had mulled going to outside firms for some or a majority of the center's functions for several weeks this summer.

Controversy erupted in early June when the 87-member Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association wrote a letter to the PCCA board, blasting what it said were lingering issues tied to labor unions working at the Convention Center - including alleged thefts, discourteous behavior and inflated costs - that were turning away key groups.

Labor leaders disputed the hotel association's complaints, and pointed the finger to what they described as inefficient management at the Convention Center that they said turned a deaf ear to labor's concerns for years.

"The PCCA hopes to find out what private firms can offer, but stresses that no conclusions have been reached regarding the ultimate direction of the center's management," Fox said.

Ahmeenah Young, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, who watched silently as the board voted 11-3 in favor of privatization last month, maintained that her staff was doing an effective job.

"I believe this examination will show what a great job our staff has done," she said, "and we will remain committed to offering the highest level of customer service."

The board's vote came less than 10 months before the June 30 expiration of a controversial 10-year customer-service agreement between the PCCA and the city's labor unions.


Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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