The city is looking to get out of the convention and entertainment business and maybe make a few bucks in the process.
The city’s Convention and Entertainment Facilities department currently runs the George R. Brown Convention Center and other city-owned venues downtown. A plan on its way to City Council next week would make the department a separate corporation that does not need council approval for its purchases. About 120 people who work for the department no longer would be city employees and would lose their union protections under the plan.
A summary of the plan obtained by the Houston Chronicle outlines the creation of Houston First, a merger of the city department with the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation, a city-created nonprofit that runs the Hilton Americas hotel adjacent to the convention center. Houston First would have its own board of directors and lease the convention center and other buildings from the city for $2 million a year. It would pay the first five years’ rent up front during the fiscal year that starts on July 1.
That cash infusion would bring down next fiscal year’s projected budget gap to $75 million, a shortfall that had been as high as $130 million but has steadily shrunk as the city lays off employees, consolidates operations and finds other savings.
The new corporation also would run the Wortham Center, Jones Hall and the Miller Outdoor Theatre.
I’m generally not a fan of privatization – Lord knows, the track record of it in this state sucks – but this doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Unlike handling food stamps and other state benefits, running these facilities doesn’t strike me as a core function of government, and there’s no reason why a private non-profit couldn’t do a perfectly good job. As the story notes, the city spun off the zoo in a similar fashion in 2002, and I daresay it’s none the worse for wear. I’d like to know what happens at the end of the 15-year lease – do the terms get renegotiated, or does the non-profit get the businesses free and clear? – but otherwise I’m not particularly alarmed. What do you think? Nonsequiteuse has more.