Sunday, July 7, 2013

RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg

RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg
Winnipeg has been not surprising practical throughout its history in naming facilities that serve a public function. For example: Winnipeg Auditorium, Winnipeg Arena, Winnipeg Stadium and Winnipeg Velodrome.

Naming rights have been around for a very long time. In the absence of a corporate owner and a company name, a famous citizen or citizens have often been chosen. Sometimes a sports facility might be called Memorial or Veteran's stadium. In other cases, named after a special event. The best Winnipeg examples are the Pan Am Pool and Pan Am Stadium.

The fully funded government brand new sports, convention and entertainment facilities dried up after the 1970s. The best these aging facilities could achieve was piecemeal upgrades from time to time. In the 1980s, the first real effort directed by the federal Liberals for a new arena downtown failed to gain traction.

It wasn't until the late 1990s that a new sports facility was built in Winnipeg and by that time, fully funded facilities were just not in the cards. Canwest Global Park (later Canwest Park and now Shaw Park) was a mish mash of funding sources and was built with various money including Crocus labour investment funds which have never been repaid. The baseball park built in 1999 was expanded to its present size in 2003. To this day, Sam Katz has said the baseball team has never made any money.

There has been a trend to transfer ownership of sports facilities to the operators of the teams that primarily call them home. This was done ostensibly to help with the viability of those teams but the amount of public investment advanced and the continued help needed for "infrastructure" almost seems limitless. Both the arena and the stadium replacements in Winnipeg have resulted in transfer of ownership to their respective teams.

The Winnipeg Convention Centre in Winnipeg is a different sort of animal. No team calls its home and no particular user has said they need the building along with the public support to be viable. I have written here before that a convention center is not just a white elephant that serves no purpose.

A campaign against the expansion of the convention centre was fairly vociferous.
The main complaint was that it was a perennial money loser. It is true, the facility has not made money. Heck, it has not even broke even. However, it was never designed really to be a profit maker. I do tend to agree that it needs better financial management and more revenue generators and user fees to operate by.

The biggest critics that the convention centre doesn't make money should not be surprised that the facility has sought out sponsorship. It seems a bit of a surprise that Royal Bank was the winner. This is no knock against the bank. They have operations all over Canada but execs mostly centered in Toronto and Montreal. The bank has had a strong presence in Manitoba over the years but has not show any particular affinity for the province over any other province.

In truth, it may be that the naming of a convention centre in Canada is a rare thing. How rare? Well, we probably have the first major sponsorship of any facility in Canada. I believe Ottawa has been looking for a sponsor but Winnipeg may have won the day because in the end, the Winnipeg Convention Centre will be the shiniest bauble in the country when done.

Sometimes there is no real explanation for a sponsorship. For example, General Motors sponsored the new arena built in 1995 in Vancouver despite the history of operations in Ontario. It always struck me as unusual but with a NHL team and a new NBA team that same year, the thought may have been that that it fit well with aggressive car marketing on sports channels.

Regardless of why Royal Bank sponsored the Winnipeg Convention Centre, it will help with revenue and raise the profile of the facility. The naysayers of public funding of the facility will probably never really be happy about it but the benefits to businesses in trade shows and the hotel and hospitality industry cannot be denied. It is entirely reasonable that the various governments might actually recoup their costs in taxes from various events associated with conventions and trade shows.

There are probably a few people who are not comfortable with corporate branding of buildings. I see it no different as naming streets, parks and neighbourhoods though. Someone named the neighbourhoods in the city of Winnipeg. Most of the times it was a developer. Seems a little too late for someone from River Heights to knock the naming of our convention centre as being awful when their own neighbourhood was branded in development.

Still, provisions have to be made for the failure of a corporation when naming a building. The Canwest Global name no longer exists and we have seen it stripped away from a few places. The ball park was seamlessly re-branded as Shaw Park but our tallest tower awkwardly became a number.  People can't forget the old name in some cases for a building or facility. To this day, some people will still say Trizec Building.

The Winnipeg Convention Centre has been an important asset for the city and will continue to be so. It attracts thousands upon thousands of people downtown. The year the building came on stream, it anchored two square blocks of vital activity in the district. The upgrade is likely to double or even triple the building surrounding the expansion.

Probably not every building is desirable for a corporate sponsorship but in this case, it does not harm and definitely helps the facility achieve its financial goals. I don't see it as being a problem going forward.

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