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Convention Planners Convention in Dallas Could Determine if New
$500 million Convention-Center Hotel Becomes a Magnet for Meetings
as Supporters Promised or a Ghost Town as Opponents Predicted

By Steve Blow, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 7, 2010--When I was growing up and was nervous about some big event -- a school presentation, a first date, a job interview -- Mom would always give me the same advice: "Just be yourself."

That never helped much.

The last thing I wanted to be was my own piddling self. That's why I was nervous in the first place.

Well, Dallas, I don't want to make you nervous, but you've got a big event coming up. And ...

Just be yourself.

The Professional Convention Management Association rolls into town this weekend for its annual meeting. It's a convention of convention planners.

And with the city of Dallas' $500 million investment in a new convention-center hotel on the line, this little get-together is huge for the city.

I'd hate to go so far as to call this a make-it-or-break-it event for the new hotel. After all, at this point, the hotel is nothing more than an anthill of construction activity.

Cranes of every shape and size loom over the site next to the downtown convention center. A concrete foundation is just starting to emerge from the dirt.

So, yeah, we're still a couple of years away from putting mints on the pillows.

But the impression that Dallas makes in the next few days will go a long way in deciding whether the hotel is the meetings magnet that supporters promised or the ghost town that opponents predicted.

About 3,000 of the nation's top meeting planners will be here until Wednesday. If they like what they see, they'll be back -- bringing hundreds of thousands of conventioneers with them.

And if not ...

Well, just be yourself, OK? Or maybe a best-behavior version of yourself.

Fortunately, we do have some good things to show these folks. Like that emerging convention hotel, to top the list. And the expanding DART rail system, soon to reach D/FW and Love Field airports. And a spiffy Arts District that ought to still have the new-car smell.

But the most important thing we have to show them is something almost invisible to us -- and that's just us being ourselves.

You know, friendly.

We take it for granted here that strangers speak, hold doors for each other and smile most of the time. But it's not like that everywhere.

When our son was in college, he had a summer internship at a big company in New York. Corey is the adventurous type. And I really feared that he would get to New York, fall in love with the big-city bustle and want to live there forever.

But, in fact, the opposite happened. I remember him saying after a few weeks on the job, "These people are just mean to each other."

He loved the career experience but was astounded by the snarling attitudes all around. He couldn't wait to get back to the land of courtesy and kind words and general helpfulness to one another.

In Dallas, I think we shine even by Southern standards.

A couple of years ago, some kinfolks from San Antonio were in town for a big convention downtown. They marveled that every time they paused on a sidewalk to get their bearings or consult a map, someone would almost always step up to offer assistance.

Well, we're going all out to give these convention planners a good impression.

The downtown Neiman Marcus will open Sunday afternoon just for them. A new Dallas song was commissioned for the big reception that night. And all the cabs in town got new air fresheners this week.

There's not much left to do. If you're the praying sort, you can put warmer weather on your list.

But mostly, Dallas, just be yourself.


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