Thursday, January 21, 2016

off the grid: retro t.o. gambling on conventions with paul godfrey

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 15, 2012.
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The City, June 18, 1978.
For as long as Paul Godfrey has been involved in Toronto’s affairs, he has pitched hard for what he feels the city deserves. His current campaign for a local casino is the latest in a long string of projects he has promoted as a politician, media executive, or general deal-closer. As Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto in the late 1970s, his presence was seen as a plus when local tourism officials organized a trip to three American cities in April 1978 to bring in convention dollars.

Working with a $10,000 budget partly funded by the federal and provincial governments, the group—consisting of businessmen and officials from the Convention and Tourist Bureau of Metro Toronto—organized luncheons in Chicago, New York, and Washington. They hoped the trip would persuade organizations to look past two obstacles that hobbled Toronto: American legislation capping the amount of tax reductions one could claim for out-of-country business expenses, and IRS regulations requiring convention attendees to document proof of their attendance. If those hassles could be overcome, the group foresaw improving on the 490 conventions and trade shows that brought $66 million into Metro Toronto in 1977.

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The City, June 18, 1978. Click on image for larger version.
The first luncheon was held at the Chicago Ritz-Carlton on April 3, 1978. Following a meal of turnip soup, trout, chocolate mousse, and plenty of booze, Godfrey—wearing a heart-shaped Metro button—praised Toronto’s friendly people, safe streets, and how much value conventioneers would get for their dollar. (At the time, the Canadian dollar was worth 87 cents US.) According to the Star’s Sunday insert The City, Godfrey sounded “as if he’d greet the whole kit and caboodle at his own fireside. He quotes lavishly from a bureau pamphlet entitled In Others Words, a collection of buttery prose about Metro by foreign travel writers. ‘Fortune magazine calls Toronto the New Great City,’ Godfrey says in his staccato delivery. He passes over the Modern Bride writer’s terse synopsis: ‘Toronto is fun.’” Godfrey was followed by comedian Dave Broadfoot, who trotted out characters like Corporal Renfrew and hockey player Big Bobby Clobber to mixed response.

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"Cocktail come on: enter the St. Regis Room, tuck into lunch, and consider the wonders of Toronto." The City, June 18, 1978.
A front page article in the following day’s Star suggested the luncheon had not gone well, claiming that no major bookings were made. While downing a Bloody Mary, an American Dental Association representative admitted that “our members are too nationalistic. They wouldn’t want to hold a convention out of the country with uncertain tax benefits.” The downbeat tone of the Star article angered Toronto tourism officials, resulting in a pair of angry letters being published two weeks later. J. Ross Kenzie of the Hotel Association of Toronto felt the piece was sarcastic and focused on the inconsequential, with “the ramifications of this negative reporting” only adding to “a rather depressed spirit of the people of our city, our province and our country.” Kenzie claimed that one Toronto attraction sold 1,000 tickets, Broadfoot earned an extra booking, and at least one small convention was booked for 1980. In the second letter, Kenneth Simpson of Boat Tours International praised Godfrey, noting that “he did not present himself as some self-important star … but worked as hard as any of us on the floor buttonholing delegates personally where prior research indicated that certain groups were ‘on the fence’ about their next convention location.” Simpson noted that while Chicago was slow, the Washington and New York visits were lucrative for his company, as he booked 4,000 future seats.

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The lunch spread. The City, June 19, 1978. Click on image for larger version.
Yet Toronto’s next major convention announcement was unrelated to these trips: After sending a delegation that included Godfrey to Honolulu the previous December, Tourist and Convention Bureau officials announced in July 1978 that Toronto would host the 1979 major-league baseball winter meetings.

Additional material from the June 18, 1978 edition of The City, the March 30, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 4, 1978 and April 21, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

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