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Mid-Sized Centers Provide
a Quarter of North American Space

Hill Anderson
, Senior Editor
February 3, 2014

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Oceanside, CA – The mid-sized convention-center landscape remained largely unchanged in the past year with such buildings offering nearly a quarter of the prime exhibit space available in North America.

Mid-sized centers offer between 125,000 and 349,999 square feet (sf) of prime exhibit space and serve the Tier III market niche between the two tiers of elite mega-centers in the major cities and the 174 smaller centers that provide less than 125,000 sf of prime space and make up Tier IV.

Of the 307 convention centers tallied by Trade Show Executive (TSE), 81 fell into the mid-sized category. These buildings had a combined 16,559,313 sf of prime space, or 24% of all of the exhibit space available in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Mid-sized convention centers make up 26% of the total number of convention centers in North America with 70 of them located in the United States. Canada offers six such centers and Mexico has five. Mexico is home to the largest building in the category, the Expo Bancomer Santa Fe with 348,750 sf of prime space. The largest such building in Canada is the Palais des congrès de Montréal with 332,369 sf.

The Portland Expo Center in Oregon is the largest mid-sized center in the U.S. with 333,000 sf of exhibit space. The Expo Center was ranked 41st in the TSE World’s Top Convention Centers rankings.

Moreover,mid-sized buildings are able to host trade shows of moderate size and are often located in and around metropolitan areas that can support regional exhibitions, consumer shows and a variety of corporate and civic events. Mid-sized centers are also known as a good place to turn for show organizers and meeting planners who need to secure space on short notice.

“We present something for everyone and want to build a diversified customer base, for the good of the region’s economy,” Matthew Rotchford, director of the Portland Expo Center said recently. “And we are always searching for new clients to discover what the center can offer their events.”

Most mid-sized centers in North America offer in the neighborhood of 200,000 sf of space. The average size of the buildings surveyed by TSE was 204,436 sf of exhibit space. The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu was the closest to that figure with 204,000 sf.

The mean square footage in the U.S. of 195,804 was best represented by the Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center in Wichita, KS with 195,500 sf of exhibit space. California has the most mid-sized centers with 10 followed by Texas with six. Twelve states have at least two mid-sized centers with which to tempt show organizers.

Expansion Potential

With the exception of the Gaylord brand, the majority of mid-sized venues are owned and often operated by city hall. Expansion plans in the early 21st Century are few and far between. The most ambitious plan to add more exhibit space currently in play is in Oklahoma City, where the city is in the planning stages of an entirely new building with 200,000 sf of exhibit space to replace the smaller Cox Convention Center in 2018.

The public share of the project, which also included provisions for a new convention hotel, was approved by the voters in 2009, but the recession and its chilling effect on municipal spending has left Oklahoma City leaders asking the now-familiar questions about the growth prospects for the events market and whether stepping up into the mid-sized tier remains a wise investment.

Reach Matthew Rotchford at (503) 736-5200 or mpr@expocenter.org