Convention Center is built, but will they come?

The video tours are cool, the lights are tantalizing and its footprint is massive, but when the Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion is christened next week the $786 million question is “was it worth it?”

The center’s expansion will increase meeting and exhibit space by 60 percent, allowing it to host two conventions at the same time. The expansion is expected to create 2,000 hospitality-related jobs at an estimated economic impact of $150 million and generate more than 280,000 additional hotel room stays following a record year for Center City hotel stays.

Yet the biggest conventions will still surpass Philadelphia’s capacity, opting for mega centers in Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando. But city officials insist that the region will reap the benefits.

“We’ll be able to take care of larger groups and some of those larger groups were former customers,” said Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What it does for Philadelphia is it keeps Philadelphia in the place of a first-tier city.”

With the city’s other tourist attractions ranging from history to nightlife and cuisine to sports, Ferguson sees the center complementing those other industries.

“All those things add to keeping people here and bringing more people in,” he said.

The first test comes in two weeks when the facility hosts the Philadelphia Flower Show and the annual conference of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

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