Comcast unit wants to run Pa. Convention Center

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An arm of Comcast Corp., the biggest company based in Philadelphia, and a competitor that was carved from its rib, were the only broadly qualified firms from across the nation to show an interest in running the Convention Center. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)

The Pennsylvania Convention Center board of directors says it sought applicants from across the United States when it sent a "Request for Qualifications" seeking private firms to show they could handle management, marketing, maintenance, and capital improvements at the sprawling, taxpayer-funded, under-used Center City complex, which is supposed to be a magnet for the tourism industry, one of the few businesses -- besides apartment rehab and construction, and colleges -- that has been growing in Philadelphia.

The result was two locally-based heavy-duty applicants:

- Global Spectrum, the Comcast Spectacor subsidiary that operates convention centers in Miami Beach, Niagara Falls, and dozens of inland towns, plus sports arenas - including the Wells Fargo Center - in the U.S. and abroad.

- SMG, the West Conshohocken company that operates more than 50 convention centers in cities including Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlantic City, and Wildwood, plus other facilities.

The rivals have common roots: SMG, the former Spectacor Management Group, was started by Comcast Spectacor boss Ed Snider back in 1977, and later sold before he organized the current Global Spectrum.

So an arm of Comcast Corp., the biggest company based in Philadelphia, and a competitor that was carved from its rib, were the only broadly qualified firms from across the nation to show an interest.

Was that enough to persuade the board to move to the next step and seek formal bids? Sure, Convention Center board chairman Gregory Fox, partner at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads L.L.P., told me: "The Request for Qualifications was to get a sense of who's out there."

The vote last year to seek qualifications was 12-3, with labor union reps divided. Now that everybody in town knows for sure "who's out there," the vote last month to seek formal proposals passed 13-1, with only Mayor Nutter's representative, Heather Steinmiller, voting against a move to corporate management.

Of course there could still be outside bidders. Are they more, or less, likely, now that the industry knows the hometown favorite is interested? 

from my column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer 

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