Convention center at threshold

Management of the Blair County Convention Center is going to change later this year.

Explore Altoona, formerly known as the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been in charge of the convention center since its May 2001 opening.

But now the organization wants to end that role when its agreement expires in August with the Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority.

After two years of strategic analysis, the bureau has decided to focus its time and effort “on the core mission of marketing the entire county for travel purposes,” board of directors President Jane Sheffield said last week. Because of that decision, the convention center authority is at a threshold similar to one it faced years ago when authority members decided the bureau would manage the facility.

At that time, the authority was wrapping up the center’s construction, a project the bureau explored, advocated and helped with every step of the way. So it was no surprise when the authority chose the bureau to manage the center. And it was no surprise that the bureau set up its headquarters there.

Now that Explore Altoona has decided to end that relationship, the authority might be wise to look into how other convention centers are managed and what options might be successful here. Members could work on short-range and long-range plans that would reflect current operating expenses and down-the-road expenses.

Authority Chairman Richard Karcher said he sees Explore Altoona’s decision putting the convention center authority in a position that will be result in “change for the positive and change for the better.”

But it no secret that some convention centers have a rough time making ends meet. And it’s no secret that attendance at conventions has declined during the latest belt-tightening economy and as newer technology lessens the need for travel.

So as the authority begins the task of deciding what to do in light of Explore Altoona’s decision, we hope its members are ready to also focus on planning the facility’s future.

That’s not going to be an easy job, but the taxpayers, who covered most of the costs to build the convention center, deserve to see the facility being used.