Dallas a Great Convention Town -- for Nuns

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"In the entertainment business and the hospitality business, you sell with hospitality," Ducate said. "How could it make any sense to sell with culture? That's why the convention bureau needs to have seats for the Mavericks and the Stars and the Cowboys.

"That's why they pick people up in limousines and why the hotels put them in suites and give them booze and bananas. It's the culture of that group, because when they are looking at bringing their members here, they need to be able to experience that same sort of thing."

Ducate's first reference to culture was, I believe, in response to an anecdote I had related to him, which I will now relate to you. It's about Mayor Miller.

According to this story, which may or may not be apocryphal, the convention bureau was trying to pitch the national plumbing supply association. Then-Mayor Miller, who was in the meeting, spent a good deal of time telling the plumbing supply people about the newly opened Nasher Sculpture Center. As I heard it at the time, a plumbing person finally leaned forward after a while and said, "What is this, just a bunch of statues?"

I asked Miller about this story last week. She said, "I don't even remember a plumbers' convention. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. I just don't remember any plumbers' convention."

But she was adamant that the behavior of the convention staff under Whitney was unacceptable. "The issue with Dave Whitney was that there was a culture in the bureau at the time for them to be escorting conventioneers to topless clubs and spending money lavishly on a lot of entertainment that they seemed to be enjoying as much as using to attract business."

The place Miller was so exercised about was The Lodge, one of the most high-end topless clubs in the country. I am not an habitué, but the other day when I visited to talk to proprietor Dawn Rizos, I was reminded how conservative the place is. It's Bent Tree Country Club without the trophy wives. Come to think of it, maybe it's where Bent Tree gets its trophy wives.

I told Rizos I thought her club seemed sort of Republican: That is, it has a certain conservative, suburban air.

"That's always been my goal," she said. "Really. I mean that with the most sincerity.

"Everyone that works here has a background check before they ever hit the floor. We just keep a tight rein on things. All our waitstaff, bartenders and managers are all breathalyzed at the end of each shift to make sure they haven't had a drink."

If you have a respectable place staffed by consenting adults who are making a hell of a lot of money, tell me again why that's a bad thing. Talk about a nanny state.

But Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me it is the official policy of the CVB to omit such places in the selling of the city.

"I don't think it's appropriate for us to use hotel occupancy taxes to fund trips to strip clubs," he said. Jones said not taking clients to strip clubs is "consistent with the brand of the city."

Now, this next bit you have to follow closely. Remember that the city's official strategy is to sell Dallas as a tourism destination and hope the convention business will follow.

Jones said, "We're not selling Las Vegas or New Orleans. We're selling a city that has great access by air, world-class restaurants and hotels and attractions like the arts district."

So we're selling the convention center by selling Dallas as a tourism destination. But we're not selling anything about Las Vegas or New Orleans, meaning we're not selling anything risqué or risky. And no sex, don't forget. So our tourism pitch is based on having good hotels and an arts district and on this being a sexless place that is reachable by airplane.

I asked Jones if maybe we should throw in something just for grins about also having a lot of really good strip clubs?

Jones said no. He said we don't need that. Jones told me that Dallas has been doing much better than other cities around the country at booking conventions.

It's hard to keep up with some of the claims. Jones' staff provided me with a list of 88 conventions that have not booked Dallas since 2003 when Whitney left. According to the analysis, this "lost business" adds up to a million hotel room-nights and $1.5 billion in economic impact.

The convention bureau says all of these conventions were lost because we don't have a downtown convention hotel. I can well imagine that none of the associations that didn't come to town, when contacted, wrote back, "Jones wouldn't take us to The Lodge."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze