- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission would be absorbed by the Washington Convention Center Authority under a new cost-savings plan outlined by Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Fenty’s proposed 2010 budget calls for the elimination of all public subsidy for the sports commission and would lead to the creation of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, which would be charged with managing and promoting most of the city’s public event space. The new authority would manage not only convention center business but events at RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory, while also working with the city’s tourism officials or marketing initiatives.

The D.C. Council would be required to approve the merger.

“We have a tough budget we’re facing, and what the mayor is trying to do is find a way so that we can continue to have good service and provide good attractions to the District of Columbia in a way that’s more effective and efficient,” said council member Kwame Brown, chairman of the council’s committee on economic development, which oversees the sports commission. “Most cities have an authority that does all this, so what you stop is a redundancy of services.”

Fenty has been seeking ways to cut money from the budget since projections showed a potential shortfall of more than $800 million in 2010. The mayor’s $5.4 billion budget proposal for 2010 is down from $5.6 billion in 2009.

Council member Jack Evans, who serves on the economic development committee, said he encouraged the merger because the sports commission lacked a clear role after it completed its oversight of the construction of Nationals Park.

“They’ve been kind of rudderless,” Evans said. “It makes sense to put these two functions together. And frankly, the convention center authority is larger, has more money and has been around longer.”

Greg O’Dell, the executive director of the convention center authority and former CEO of the sports commission, would remain as head of the merged body. Sports commission chairman Matthew Cutts and vice chairman Bill Hall would be added to the authority’s board of directors.

It is unclear whether the merger would result in the elimination of staff positions, though Evans said it would not be surprising if there were layoffs because of an overlap of responsibilities. Fenty’s budget calls for the elimination of nearly 1,500 jobs across the city.

“Many synergies exist between the two organizations,” said Erik Moses, CEO for the sports commission. “We all share the same goal of bringing first-rate events to the District for the benefit of our visitors, residents and the business community.”

The sports commission played a lead role in attracting the Nationals to the District. It operates RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory and has been involved in attracting and promoting sports events, including the EagleBank Bowl and the city’s high school football and baseball championships.

The convention center authority is in charge of managing the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It also works closely with Destination DC, the city’s tourism bureau.

Both the convention center authority and the sports commission were quasi-public groups created to perform specific functions but designed to operate as self-sufficient entities. While the groups generally do not rely on D.C. funds, the sports commission in the past two years received $2.5 million in subsidy from the D.C. government to help offset the loss of revenue when the Nationals moved to their new ballpark.

Since taking over as mayor, Fenty has dismantled several quasi-public entities, including the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and National Capital Revitalization Corporation.