PhillyDeals: Conv. Center gets interest of local firms

Posted: April 04, 2013

The Pennsylvania Convention Center board of directors says it sought applicants from across the United States when it sent a "Request for Qualifications" last year, seeking private firms to show they could handle management, marketing, maintenance, and capital improvements at the sprawling, taxpayer-funded, under-used Center City complex.

The firms that answered the call were all locally connected, say people familiar with the results.

Two are already Convention Center contractors with specialized duties. Elliott-Lewis, the Philadelphia mechanical-services contractor business, manages the center's utilities and customer services. Team Clean, of Philadelphia, manages housekeeping services.

"We certainly aren't qualified to run the whole Convention Center. It would be a mess. But we are very good at the cleaning," and want to keep doing it, said Team Clean president and founder Donna Allie.

And there were two heavy-duty applicants - also locally based - that could show they already manage all the requested Convention Center activities:

Global Spectrum, the Comcast Spectacor subsidiary that operates convention centers in Miami Beach, Niagara Falls, and dozens of inland towns, plus sports arenas - including the Wells Fargo Center - in the U.S. and abroad.

SMG, the West Conshohocken company that operates more than 50 convention centers in cities including Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlantic City, and Wildwood, plus other facilities.

It would seem, then, that the process leaves Global Spectrum and SMG as the only serious contenders for the role of managing a wide range of crucial aspects of the complex.

"We, as a company, have a lot to offer the Pennsylvania Convention Center," Peter Luukko, president of Comcast Spectacor, said in a statement. "We have established deep roots in Philadelphia since 1967," and have helped draw big shows to Philadelphia, he added.

The rivals have common roots: SMG, the former Spectacor Management Group, was started by Comcast Spectacor boss Ed Snider back in 1977, and later sold before he organized the current Global Spectrum.

So an arm of Comcast Corp., the biggest company based in Philadelphia, and a competitor that was carved from its rib, were the only broadly qualified firms to show an interest.

Was that enough to persuade the board to move to the next step? Sure, Convention Center board chairman Gregory Fox, partner at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads L.L.P., told me: "The Request for Qualifications was to get a sense of who's out there."

Now we know.

The vote to seek qualifications was 12-3. The vote to seek proposals passed 13-1, with only Mayor Nutter's representative, Heather Steinmiller, voting against a move to corporate management.

Utility sale

Tuesday was the deadline for would-be operators to sweeten their bids to run the water system in Allentown, Pennsylvania's third-largest city, for the next 50 years. "We expect offers in the $175 to $200 million range," writes analyst Ryan M. Connors, in a report to clients of Janney Capital Markets.

Connors says the bidders include Voorhees-based American Water Works, Bryn Mawr-based Aqua America, United Water, and three nonprofits.

Connors says his sources tap American Water and Aqua America as the early leaders. But Allentown City Council could still kill the deal - as dead as American Water's $100 million bid to run Trenton's water works, thumpingly rejected by voters in 2010.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, and @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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