As I sit down to write this post, the American and National leagues are competing at beautiful Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. For the first time in 40 years my hometown is hosting the Major League Baseball All Star Game. Spectators from around the world are seeing a first rate ballpark in a first rate city. What is not so obvious to those watching the game is the devastating impact that the mismanagement of the event has caused local businesses. While many will praise the job that the Kansas City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau did promoting the city, others will be cursing them as they apply for unemployment.
The numbers were clearly stated. Rick Hughes, the head of the KCCVB, forecasted an impact to the local economy of between $45-50 million. The CVB sent out personnel to tell restaurants to prepare for a week like they have never seen before. Restaurants spent months planning menus, placing advertisements, hiring staff, and preparing for a record breaking week. Extra food was ordered. Coolers were stocked to capacity with cold beer for baseball fans. Plates, glasses, and all of the other necessary equipment were purchased to feed the hordes of visitors coming in to town for baseball and Kansas City hospitality.
There was only one problem: the fans never arrived.
I have spoken with people at restaurants Downtown, on The Plaza, in The Crossroads, South Kansas City, North Kansas City, and elsewhere. The response was the same. There was no noticeable positive impact to business and if anything the numbers were down. Locals stayed away from these areas expecting them to be overrun by out of town visitors. Meanwhile the mythical tourists were nowhere to be found. Servers entertained themselves in empty dining rooms embracing the hope that “they must be coming tomorrow.”
There is no doubt that Mr Hughes will be receiving a pat on the back from Mayor James. The media will applaud him for running an event so efficiently that you could hardly notice the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of visitors that came through town. He will not have to worry about his job. Those who heeded his warnings and forecasted based on his numbers will not be so lucky.
Restaurants run on very thin profit margins. The order the minimum supplies they will need and schedule the minimum amount of staff in order to service their customers. When they are told that a major event is coming to town, they add it into their budget forecasts. They spend money in advance as a calculated risk that the numbers presented by those at City Hall will be accurate. When those numbers prove to be nothing more than hype, placing blame at the feet of the KCCVB will not be enough to save their job.
Make no mistake that the real economic impact of this event will be felt by those who will lose their jobs because they trusted the public servants that are supposed to work on their behalf. Rick Hughes’ hype has brought him job security while costing many others their paycheck. Small independent restaurants cannot afford this sort of loss. Local businesses will close because they took the gamble of trusting the City Hall hype man’s “sure thing.”
Now I am sure some will point to the successful fan events held in the Power and Light District where they successfully prevented the media from reporting widely on the SWAT team presence and incidents of arrest. Of course the definition of “local economic impact” is skewed when the money is going to a restaurant that sends profits back to their headquarters in Kentucky to pay back rent to the landlords in Baltimore. The local entertainment district that brought us a BBQ company from Wisconsin and a steakhouse from Iowa hardly represents the local economy. As a local resident, I hate paying for the P&L, but doesn’t mean I am ready to pay taxes instead to support the Kordish City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
Rick Hughes was not elected by the voters of Kansas City. I will never have a chance to cast a ballot against him. I will remember this the next time he asks for tax breaks to fund another hotel downtown or more money to expand the convention center. It may be too late to save the local restaurants who were damaged by the self aggrandizing economic impact estimates of the KCCVB, but when the reports of closures start coming in I hope we all know where to place the blame. Mr. Hughes will be taking his victory lap around City Hall this week and I hope that Cordish picks up the tab for his victory dinner. They owe him one for thinning out their competition.