Hot Spots: Smaller Convention
Centers Spice up their Offerings
Oceanside, CA - Looking for a North American venue that offers less than 125,000 sf of prime exhibit space? You are in luck. The options abound in this category with 174 Tier IV convention centers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico offering 50,000 sf to 124,999 sf of prime exhibit space. More than half (57%) of convention centers in the region fit the bill, according to the most recent edition of Trade Show Executive’s World’s Top Convention Centers (WTCC) published in June.
“It continues to be a buyer’s market for organizers with shows in this range,” said Maura Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau in Texas. “There are so many venue options in this category. This trend shows no sign of reversing any time soon.”
Indeed, North American venues with less than 125,000 sf of prime exhibit space have a total square footage of 13,933,713. Their space represents 20% of the total square footage of the North American venues listed in the 2013 WTCC. The average (mean) square footage of prime exhibit space for Tier IV venues in North America is 80,079.
And the numbers continue to climb. Two convention centers completed construction in 2013. In June, the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, IA, completed construction of a new venue that features 81,779 sf of prime exhibit space. In October, the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA, added 30,000 sf of prime exhibit space, bringing its total to 130,000 sf. In 2012, there were 173 convention centers in this tier, offering an average of 79,931 sf of prime exhibit space.
Smaller convention centers fill their space with a wide range of statewide meetings, regional trade shows, corporate events, consumer shows and other local events. But most are looking to fill their calendars with more national and international exhibitions that bring a higher economic impact to their communities.
For some, that means adding more space. “Our goal is to attract more national business,” said Johnna Boxley, general manager of the Spokane Convention Center in Washington, which is currently adding 20,000 sf of prime exhibit space and 25,000 sf of meeting space. When completed in December 2014, the center will offer 120,160 sf of prime exhibit space, 67,900 sf of meeting space and 17,390 sf of flex space. “We didn’t have the right configuration before, but our expansion should help us gain more market share.”
In addition to the Spokane Convention Center, there are currently five other centers in this category under construction (See Pardon Our Dust in the October 2013 issue of Trade Show Executive).
The recent 16-day partial government shutdown, as well as the sequester, clearly had a significant impact on U.S. convention centers. “At least six of our buildings had cancellations or postponements of government-related events,” said Gregg Caren, executive vice president, SMG, which currently manages 46 convention centers in this category. “That’s a hit. The revenue loss is felt more in smaller venues.”
Consumer show business took a hit during the economic recession, but many smaller centers are reporting solid gains for this market. For example, the Dallas Comic Con, held October 4-6 at the Irving Convention Center, attracted more than 20,000 attendees. “It has been so successful that it has probably outgrown our venue,” said Gast.
Some centers are partnering with show organizers to help them reduce the risk for new show launches. “We may offer planners a break on rent in the first year or two if they agree to long-term commitments if they are successful,” said Boxley. “We had several consumer shows that went out of business during the recession, but we are adding a new snow show and a high-end gift and food show.”
Technology is a huge factor for centers all sizes. To compete in this category, many offer free WiFi throughout their buildings, including the exhibit halls. “People think of WiFi like they think of air,” said Craig Liston, regional vice president, SMG. “They think it should be free and it should be always available.” He said many of the smaller centers will be investing in distributed antenna systems (DAS) to handle the additional bandwidth from multiple devices.
“We will be offering free WiFi throughout the entire building,” said Dean Dennis, vice president for Global Spectrum and general manager of the Owensboro Convention Center in Kentucky, which officially opens for business with the Ag Expo on January 29, 2014.
The Irving Convention Center, which opened just two and a half years ago, has already invested in WiFi upgrades. “The demands for bandwidth have ramped up,” said Gast. “WiFi is just not going to be a revenue generator, but it can be a deal maker or breaker.”
Reach Maura Gast at (972) 401-7706 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Gregg Caren at (610) 729-7922 or GCaren@smgworld.com; Craig Liston at (614) 937-5751 or email@example.com; Dean Dennis at (270) 687-8921 or firstname.lastname@example.org; and Johnna Boxley at (509) 279-7003 or email@example.com
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