by Tom Isler | August 01, 2007

America’s Center
Center of attention:
America’s Center

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission is pushing three local audiovisual unions to accept new work policies that CVC leaders hope will cut labor costs for convention clients and make the city more attractive
to groups.

The confrontation is part of a larger strategy by Kathleen Ratcliffe, president of the CVC, to breathe new life into the city’s struggling convention business.

“There are some decades-old practices [the unions] follow that we feel need to be changed to keep us competitive in the marketplace,” Ratcliffe said. “As a result, we are working with those unions to streamline the work rules.”

Ratcliffe would most like to eliminate “shadowing,” the practice of hiring a union member to monitor the work of nonunion laborers at America’s Center, the city’s convention center complex.

William Watkins, business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 143 in St. Louis, declined to comment on negotiations, saying only that the talks have been productive. He added that while the union wants to improve the customer experience, too, it also wants to maintain standards and benefits its workers have earned over the years. At press time, no resolution had been reached.

Since Ratcliffe took the helm at the CVC in May 2006, she has revamped the organization by changing the process for bookings; restructuring incentives and sales goals; adding a new corporate meetings sales team; assigning agents to state association and group tour markets; and expanding the bureau’s Washington, D.C., sales office.

The changes have paid off. The number of hotel room nights booked for meetings during the fiscal year that ended June 30 reached 523,406, roughly a 20 percent increase over the previous five-year average. It was the first time room nights broke the half-million mark since before Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition, following the advice of the CVC’s National Customer Advisory Board, a facelift of America’s Center began in April and will be completed in December. The CVC also has hired Brian Hall as chief marketing officer to supervise a redesign of the CVC’s website and the launch of a new brand initiative.

The city is in the midst of a major rebuilding effort that includes construction of a $430 million casino resort, Lumiere Place, and the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the area adjacent to the convention center, known as the Bottle District. Total investment in the city could top $5 billion.

Last year, St. Louis won the urban renewal award from the World Leadership Forum, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization.