Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Urban League might cancel '03 conference

Group giving city 1 year to institute reforms

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Urban League might cancel plans to hold its 2003 national convention in Cincinnati unless city leaders do a better job of providing financial opportunity for African-Americans.

        The August 2003 convention is one of the largest of 75 booked at the downtown Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center over the next two years. It's expected to generate $3.4 million for the Cincinnati economy with 4,000 visitors booking 8,745 hotel room-nights over five days.

        Rather than immediately boycotting downtown, local Urban League President Sheila Adams said she'll give the city a year to make post-riot reforms work.

        “We're going to work with our city and hope to bring about change,” said Ms. Adams, adding that national Urban League officials agreed to follow her recommendation. “If we hadn't made some change by (2002), then we should” cancel the convention.

  • Tell us what you think of the boycott.
  • Boycott demands
        So far, no other business, trade or nonprofit organization with a scheduled convention has an swered a call to yank conventions. A coalition of 14 organizations is asking for business and trade groups to cancel Cincinnati conventions as part of an overall economic boycott of downtown businesses and events.

        Officials of the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau declined to say how they will respond to the call for a boycott.

        But they are willing to answer questions from convention planners and others.

        “We're trying to keep an open-door policy about answering people's concerns,” said Eric Kearney, the bureau's vice chairman. “I think we're more concerned about the health of Cincinnati as a whole and making sure the entire community is happy.”

        Targeting conventions, hotels, restaurants and retailers has become a popular strategy for civil rights groups protesting a vote or decision.

        Civil-rights organizations canceled South Carolina meeting plans when the state refused to remove the Confederate flag from its Columbia statehouse.

        Likewise, Cincinnati was targeted by some groups after vot ers overwhelmingly approved Issue 3, a charter amendment blocking laws protecting the rights of homosexuals.

        Eight groups canceled meetings that were previously booked. The bureau estimates the cancellations cost Cincinnati $24.6 million.

        The bureau estimates Issue 3 cost another $28.8 million in potential business — conventions that chose a competing city over Cincinnati, citing the charter amendment as a reason.

        Dale Lewis, who manages the city's convention center, said it's unlikely groups that have already booked conventions over the next two years will change plans.

        Convention planners often book meetings several years in advance and aren't able to change plans quickly. For instance, it took seven years for the Urban League to select Cincinnati for its 2003 convention.

        “I would think the thrust of this effort would be for conventions that are still considering a destination,” said Mr. Lewis. “Site selection is a long process, and alternatives get fewer and fewer,” the longer planners wait.


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