The big deal convention center event we never heard about

This spring, during the campaign about whether to build the convention center hotel, the pro-hotel side told us that Dallas could never attract major U.S. convention business without a convention center hotel. What they didn’t tell us was that the convention center had already attracted one of those events – a major international convention – without a hotel.

Last fall, more than six months before the election, says an American Wind Energy Association official, her group told convention center executives that it would hold its 2010 convention, called Windpower 2010, in Dallas. The wind power event will take up the entire convention center, which almost never happens unless Mary Kay is in town, and organizers expect more than 23,000 people to attend.

More, after the jump.

In fact, you still won’t find the wind power convention listed on the convention center Web site, even though the wind energy group, known as AWEA, is selling exhibition space. The convention center’s Charlotte Allen says that’s because all of the contracts haven’t been signed; the convention is termed “definite tentative,” she told me.

Nevertheless, says AWEA’s Lori Rough, the group’s director of marketing and sales, they’re coming. “Texas is an important wind state,” she says, noting that we’re the No. 1 wind power state in the country. “Dallas has the room [in the convention center] and the accommodation volume, and the city has been very warm and accommodating.”

Rough says AWEA would prefer to have a convention center hotel for its events, but it’s not a necessity. More important, she says, are enough hotel rooms within an 8- to 10-mile radius (7,000 in this case) and a mass transit system. Which we have.

Windpower 2010 is a big deal, exactly the kind of convention the city wants to attract, and it’s a coup that we got it. Wind power is not just about tree huggers anymore; it’s an international, multi-trillion dollar business that includes global companies like General Electric, Germany’s Siemens, and Spain’s Gamesa. The federal government wants wind to provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, and we’re poised in Texas to benefit from wind in the same way we have benefitted from oil and gas.

So why didn’t we know about this convention until I stumbled on it while talking to my editor at North American Windpower magazine? The obvious answer, of course, is that the pro-hotel side didn’t want the voters to know for fear they would reject the hotel. And, given how close the vote was, news of this convention may well have swung the election.

But we shouldn’t expect the pro-hotel side to tell us stuff that would hurt them. That we didn’t know about this convention speaks to something I’ve written about before. There are few news outlets left in town that can do the reporting necessary to find out these sorts of things. We try like hell at the Advocate, but we don’t have the resources to follow stories like this. Neither, really, does the Observer, and they try even harder than we do. The TV stations don’t have the inclination, and even Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper, faced with the recession, doesn’t have the resources. This summer, when city hall reporter Rudy Bush took a vacation, the paper’s City Hall blog took a vacation, too. How sad is that?

When this happens, we’re at the mercy of the bosses downtown. And I don’t think anyone wants that.


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