There are two words that fill me with a kind of annoyed dread: "Welcome, COGIC."
What can I say? Some Louisianians like to leave New Orleans during Mardi Gras; I wouldn't mind missing Memphis during COGIC's annual Holy Convocation.
As someone who works and used to live downtown, I've had my share of encounters with COGIC (and more than my share of encounters with their cars).
There was the time the COGIC courtesy van almost sideswiped me as it flew down Second. Then there was the time I got stuck in a COGIC-sponsored traffic jam, as cars packed with people made right turns (from a left lane) into a parking garage. And lest you think me godless, there was the Sunday when I went to my church near the convention center, only to be turned away from our parking lot because it was already full of COGIC vehicles.
So when I see "Welcome, COGIC" store signs, my first thought is: Here we go again. Judging from stories I've heard about long lines, bad tips, and cranky behavior, I can assume I'm not the only one feeling this way.
Two weeks ago, Bishop G.E. Patterson said the church would move to another city for its 2005 convention (but be back in 2007 for the 100th anniversary) unless local hotels lowered rates. Without a moment's thought, local (cheer)leaders pulled out their pompoms and began waving them to the beat of "this convention is sooo important for Memphis."
My reaction: See ya.
The convention center charges COGIC $16,000 for the week, while other groups pay more than twice that amount. The Convention & Visitors Bureau also subsidizes transportation from the airport. What more do they want us to do? Give them our firstborns?
COGIC has a big bargaining chip in the hotel and discretionary dollars its 50,000 attendees spend. But it doesn't seem like they'll ever be really happy here.
Just last April, the City Council appropriated $300,000 for risers at the Cook Convention Center's main hall. Why? Because of COGIC.
In November 2002, Patterson threatened to take the Holy Convocation elsewhere because of a riser problem. You see, the service on Sunday is held in The Pyramid, but since that building only seats 20,000, the rest of the attendees go to various locations for the service, including the convention center's main hall.
Well, the original risers in the convention center hall were built in 1974, and, after 20 years, they weren't looking so good. In 1999, the convention center management decided -- because of safety concerns -- to discontinue use of the risers. There's no word on how other groups liked the change, but it didn't work for COGIC. People complained about the sight lines and the acoustics.
Or, as former council member Pat Vander Schaaf said at a meeting in April 2003, "Because of the risers, the last two conventions were just really hostile situations."
No wonder the world has such a problem with holy wars.
At any rate, as then-budget committee chairman, Vander Schaaf went poking around and found $300,000 in an old Pyramid account and got the council to appropriate it for the convention center.
It probably isn't my place to question, but they were going to move the entire convocation to another city because of some sight lines? Please.
So here's my advice: COGIC, please, give us a break. Try another city. I can't see anywhere treating you half as well as your hometown.
And whatever happens, no hard feelings in 2007.
Mary Cashiola is a Flyer staff writer.