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Overall Business Looking Up

Sandi Cain
, News Editor
February 1, 2015

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Oceanside, CA – Mid-sized convention centers, which have prime exhibit space ranging from 125,000 sf to 349,999 sf, pack a big punch. The category includes convention centers with anywhere from 125,000 sf to 349,999 sf of prime exhibit space. Numbering 85, they represent 27% of the 314 total convention centers in North America with 50,000 sf or more of prime exhibit space, according to the most recent Trade Show Executive Annual Report on Mid-Sized Convention Centers. They also add up to 17,141,013 sf, which is 24% of the overall prime exhibit space at all North American venues with at least 50,000 sf.

The U.S. dominates this category with 71 of the 85 centers. Canada has nine and Mexico has five. The largest mid-sized center in the U.S. is the Portland Expo Center in Portland, OR, which offers 333,000 sf of prime exhibit space. 2015 is expected to be a good year for the center. Event bookings are ahead of last year, with industries like timber and golf trending upward, according to Matthew Rotchford, director of the Portland Expo Center.

At the other end of the category, the smallest of the mid-sized convention centers in North America is the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL, which has 125,700 sf of prime exhibit space. The Von Braun Center most recently hosted the Boat Show Huntsville, a regional show that used more than 100,000 sf of exhibit space, and in March will host the Association of the United States Army.

In all, 36 U.S. states and Puerto Rico have mid-sized facilities. More than one-third of the mid-sized venues in the U.S. (37%) are concentrated in just four states: California has nine; Florida and Texas each have six; and North Carolina has five. Twelve states have two mid-sized centers. Only California and Oregon have multiple centers among the largest 10 in this category.

Gains and Losses

California lost one mid-sized center when The Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco closed in late 2014. But Oklahoma will add another state to the roster in 2019 when the new Oklahoma City Convention Center is expected to open with 200,000 sf of prime exhibit space.

Other centers with expansion plans that would add them into this sector are the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA, which is expanding from 100,000 sf of prime exhibit space to 130,000 sf this Fall, and RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, which is expanding from 78,000 sf of prime exhibit space to 135,500 sf of prime space and 128,500 sf of meeting space by March 2016.

Our Neighbors to the North and South

Canada’s nine mid-sized centers collectively offer 2,081,369 sf, or 12% of all North American mid-sized space. The country’s largest mid-sized venue is the Palais des congrès de Montréal, with 332,369 sf of prime exhibit space. In March, that center will host the Allied Beauty Association Show that will use 130,000 sf of exhibit space.

Mexico’s five mid-sized centers account for 6% of the total mid-sized venues in North America. Mexico City’s Expo Bancomer Santa Fe is the largest in Mexico and also the largest mid-sized venue in North America with 348,750 sf of prime exhibit space.

State of the Middle

The average (mean) square footage of prime exhibit space for all mid-size convention centers in North America is 201,659 sf. The center that is closest to that average is the Dallas Market Center, which has 202,000 sf of exhibit space. The average square footage at mid-sized convention centers in the U.S. alone is 194,416 sf, which is closely represented by the CenturyLink Center Omaha, with 194,000 sf of prime exhibit space.

The median or midpoint of prime exhibit space at mid-size centers in North America is 191,000 sf. Both the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, KY and the San Mateo County Event Center in California offer that amount of space.

The most frequent amount of exhibit space (mode) for mid-sized venues in North America is 150,000 sf. Five convention centers have exactly that amount: Greensboro, NC’s Coliseum Complex; Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, IA; Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, NC; Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, VA; and EY Centre in Ottawa.

Overall Business Looking Up

Across the U.S., officials at mid-sized convention centers said overall booking patterns are encouraging if not up significantly, though some sectors are stronger than others. “We see the medical meetings and sports markets as emerging but the traditional SMERF market has shown signs of slowing down in overall attendance,” said Eric Blanc, director of sales, marketing and convention services at the Tampa Convention Center. 

Medical and technology shows also are strong at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Florida and have helped the region recover from the economic downturn. The corporate market and pharmaceutical business also are bright spots for the Fort Worth Convention Center, according to Kirk Slaughter, director.

In Montreal, healthcare shows, along with aerospace, transportation, tech and finance, are the strongest sectors, according to Raymond Larivee, chief executive officer of Palais des congrès de Montréal. The Palais primarily hosts international conventions and trade shows, he said.

Other growing sectors in Fort Lauderdale are Comic-Con-related shows and multi-level marketing groups. The city also will host the American Builders & Contractors Association’s Workforce Development Conference and a robotics competition this year. “Pop culture events are trending up,” Slaughter said. The New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center at Raritan Center also has seen more bookings from that sector. This year, the venue will host iHobby Expo and NJ Comic Con, and Intergroom pet expo.

Booking lead times remain somewhat short across the board, with the corporate market oft-cited as the primary culprits. “We still get a lot of requests for (events) in the year for that year, but we don’t always have room for them,” said Denise Niebrugge, VP of convention sales and marketing for CenturyLink Center Omaha. That center will host the Triumph of Ag Expo in March, filling 102,000 sf of exhibit space.

Omaha isn’t alone. “The majority of what we’re working on is four years and closer,” said Steve Bagwell, VP of venues for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and director of the Charlotte Convention Center. “A large majority of our bookings for citywides is happening two years out or sooner,” he said.

A few mid-sized convention centers said while overall business may be slow to increase, demand for exhibit space is on the rise. “Events under contract for 2015 will be using more space than in previous years and (have) extended the number of days they’re using the venue,” said Eddie Tadlock, assistant general manager at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, MI, which has 162,000 sf of prime space.

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