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St. Louis hotels scrambling to fill over 11,000 rooms with cancellation of major GSA conference

Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio
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A scandal that erupted in April over lavish spending by the General Services Administration, the government's logistics provider, is leaving hotels in St. Louis scrambling to fill rooms.

The GSA's GovEnergy conference was scheduled to start August 19. Attendees had booked more than 11,000 hotel rooms over the three days. But the agency informed the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission on Monday that the conference could not meet new standards implemented after the Las Vegas debacle, and would be postponing the event.

"They had contracts with 10 hotels," said CVC president Kitty Ratcliffe. "More than half of those hotels had their entire hotel, the full block, contracted to this group, so they haven't taken any other business. They've turned everything else away, and it's impossible to replace."

Ratcliffe said the conference was expected to generate about $6 million in direct spending.

"But more importantly from our perspective is the fact that hospitality workers who are scheduled when we have events, and aren't scheduled when we don't have events, won't be working because there is absolutely no time to fill those dates," she said. "That means restaurant workers, room cleaners, the union guys who would set up the A/V and the production and the exhibits in the convention center, none of those guys are going to work."

The GSA posted the following statement on its website:

"After a rigorous review of the 2012 GovEnergy conference, GSA has decided to postpone this year’s conference. GSA has decided to postpone the GovEnergy conference because of new standards that GSA has put in place for conferences and contracts surrounding conferences. There was not sufficient time to make the GovEnergy compliant with these new standards for an August 2012 conference. Funds will be reimbursed to registrants and vendors, and GSA will work with other federal agencies involved in this process. "

GSA spokesman Dan Cruz would not say why the agency waited until July to cancel the conference. He said businesses who had contracts for the event need to contact the event planner used by the GSA with questions about lost business.

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