Pennsylvania Convention Center OKs privatization plan

The board of the Pennsylvania Convention Center has voted to privatize management of the center’s operations.

The board chose SMG, which is based in Conshohocken but manages centers around the country, to take over operations in Philadelphia. Bookings for the expanded center are poor, and labor issues are blamed for alienating customers.

Union labor costs and work rules have been troublesome issues since the center opened, and a 2003 agreement aimed at resolving the problems expires at the end of this month.

After the vote, board chairman Gregory Fox said he’s optimistic about working out a new labor agreement.

“Well, it’s my hope that the unions will immediately agree to anything we ask,” Fox said, prompting laughter from nearby board members. “But, failing that, SMG has a great reputation not only among our customers, but among unions in other cities, and it’s my hope that unions will have a sense of confidence that they’ll be treated fairly.”

The board’s vote to privatize operations wasn’t unanimous. Mayor Michael Nutter’s two appointees to the board opposed the privatization plan.

One, attorney Heather Steinmiller, said before the vote that the center already uses a private firm, Elliot Lewis, to manage labor at the facility.

“I don’t believe this action addresses our No. 1 issue — our inability meet our customers expectations in delivering high quality, low cost show labor,” she said.

The board authorized a committee to negotiate an agreement with SMG in the coming weeks. Fox estimated the company would earn about $400,000 a year for their services. He said the center’s 90 current employees will have a chance to interview for jobs with SMG.                  

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