North America’s Largest Convention Centers Provide a Dazzling Medium for Organizers
The largest convention centers in North America may have plenty of elbow room, but that alone isn’t going to cut it for the exhibitions of tomorrow. The biggest shows often have the most demanding requirements, from space needs to technology to breakout space. As a result, trade show venues must rise to the occasion and build to accommodate future demand, more robust technology and sustainability concerns.
Convention centers of all sizes are ramping up their technology infrastructures to provide more bandwidth and peppier Wi-Fi.
Behind the scenes, green is still going strong with the number of LEED-certified centers growing steadily, along with rooftops that buzz with beehives and solar-power arrays. Surrounding neighborhoods are also being energized to create a welcoming environment filled with nightlife and other diversions for attendees.
In this report, Trade Show Executive looks at the largest convention centers in North America: the Millionaire’s Club and the Mega Convention Centers. This year, there are 52 convention centers with at least 350,000 sf of prime exhibit space. Together, they offer 38,408,241 sf of prime exhibit space. Among those largest centers are 40 in the U.S., 7 in Canada and 5 in Mexico. The U.S. accounts for 77% of the largest convention centers in North America, based on prime square footage. Canada has 13% of the prime exhibit space and Mexico has 10%.
The exclusive Millionaire’s Club of convention centers — those with 1 million sf or more of prime exhibit space — will welcome a new member this year: the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which is set to debut its newest 110,564 sf addition this month, bringing its total prime exhibit space to 1,045,295 sf. In addition, Mandalay’s total meeting space will increase from 765,269 sf to 1,002,204 sf as a result of the expansion and the number of breakout rooms will increase by 15 to 168 total rooms.
Despite that impressive growth, Mandalay Bay’s place among the Top 10 centers in prime exhibit space may be short-lived if the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston completes its expansion by the time this report is published next year. That expansion is expected to bring the center’s total prime exhibit space to 1.2 million sf, up substantially from the current 862,000 sf. If the expansion was finished now, that convention center would rank No. 6 on this year’s list.
The Millionaire’s Club also includes two Canadian convention centers, both in Toronto: the Enercare Centre (formerly the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place) and The Toronto Congress Centre. Both have 1 million sf of prime exhibit space.
None of the centers in Mexico have reached the Millionaire’s Club status yet. The Mega Center closest to that mark is Expo Guadalajara, with 753,200 sf of prime exhibit space.
In addition to the 12 Millionaire’s Club convention centers in the U.S. and Canada, there are 30 Mega Convention Centers with 350,000 sf to 999,999 sf of prime exhibit space in the U.S., 5 in Canada and 5 in Mexico.
The Big Get Bigger
Despite their already impressive size, the largest U.S. convention centers aren’t resting on their laurels. At least 12 of the convention centers on this list have expansion or renovation projects in the works that are projected for completion anywhere between 2016 and the end of the decade. In addition to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and the George R. Brown Convention Center, both noted earlier, here is a look at the expansions coming up:
- The second-largest center in the U.S., the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, is in the midst of a major upgrade to the West Building and Kathie Canning, executive director of the OCCC said, “A convention center is never finished expanding or upgrading – it is necessary for growth.”
- The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio is adding 75,000 sf of prime exhibit space to bring its total to 515,000 sf by early 2016, along with additional meeting space, ballroom space and breakout rooms
- The Anaheim Convention Center, which is adding 200,000 sf of flexible space for exhibits and meetings, is set for completion in the First Quarter of 2017 in time to host The NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants) in its new space.
- Detroit’s Cobo Center, which ranks No. 17 among all Mega Centers in the U.S. with 723,000 sf of prime exhibit space, is nearing its completion of a five-year, $279 million renovation project.
- The Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio has plans to add 36,000 sf of prime exhibit space by mid-2017.
Mega Centers still seeking legislative approval or financing plans to expand include the Los Angeles Convention Center, San Diego Convention Center, Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Miami Beach Convention Center, and Moscone Center in San Francisco.
Boston plans to expand from 516,000 sf of prime exhibit space to 850,000 sf and add 100,000 sf of additional meeting space, but no completion date has been announced. In the meantime, 2.7 acres of outdoor green space were converted to event space to test options for outdoor space compatibility in the upcoming expansion.
Miami Beach plans to expand to 505,190 sf of prime exhibit space by Q4 2017 and Moscone Center plans to expand to 515,000 sf of prime exhibit space and 175,000 sf of flexible meeting space by 2018. Final plans for Los Angeles and San Diego have not been announced.
Campus-Style Convention Centers Gain Ground
Some Mega Center projects will extend the reach of the convention centers to compatible facilities within walking distance — a burgeoning trend worldwide — with cities like Chicago, Anaheim, San Diego and Las Vegas already taking steps to integrate their convention centers into campus-style environments.
Chicago, home to the largest convention center in the U.S. at McCormick Place, began its plans for a $600 million McCormick Place Entertainment District in 2013. The district will connect via a pedestrian bridge to McCormick Place West and has a target completion date of 2017.
The Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, which ranks fourth on this year’s Millionaire’s Club/Mega Convention Centers list, has a new stadium for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons slated for the same complex as the convention center, the Georgia Dome and Olympic Park that will open up additional opportunities for users of the convention center.
“The new Atlanta Falcons Stadium will help to bring many new large-scale and prestigious events to our facilities,” said General Manager Mark Zimmerman.
An even more ambitious project involves the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center that also will significantly extend the entire campus into a new Global Business District that is envisioned to link the convention complex with downtown and the Strip. That project is now dubbed the “Las Vegas Convention Center District.” Phase 1 of the massive project involves the demolition of the Riviera Hotel and construction of roughly 600,000 sf of new exhibit space for the convention center. The demolition is expected to take place sometime in 2016. The entire project is still in the planning and funding stage.
The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is at the center of the conversation in that city to develop a convention center district within a 47-acre tract of land that also would include a new headquarters hotel and a park. As of press time, the project was still in the talking stage. New Orleans will host Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition (International Association of Exhibitions & Events) in 2018 during the city’s 300th birthday, an event that suggests some action on the project might be expected in time for the celebration.
Meanwhile, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas will have additional options for dining nearby when a $27 million project adjacent to the Omni Dallas is completed by year’s end. It is expected to include at least four restaurants.
Convention centers continue to scramble to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology, with whole-building Wi-Fi becoming more common throughout the industry as the demand for 24/7 connectivity among organizers and attendees continues to grow.
Specialized video and digital display areas, in addition to outdoor video boards, also are becoming more common. One of the most recent developments on that front is Cobo Center’s new in-house TV studio along with two interior and two exterior video walls.
Sustainability efforts still are at the forefront of many expansion and renovation plans. One of the most recent achievements was accomplished by Detroit’s Cobo Center, which last month received APEX certification from the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) for its sustainability efforts. The award is the fourth for Cobo Center from the GMIC.
Thom Connors, SMG regional vice president and general manager, in announcing the news, said, “We are proud to take the lead in advancing the convention center’s responsible environmental and social practices and hope this will encourage others in making Detroit a more sustainable meeting destination.”
Last year, the Georgia World Congress Center became the largest convention center in the world to achieve the LEED Silver rating for its sustainability efforts. Renovations at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York include a seven-acre green roof that conserves energy and reduces runoff.
Mega Convention Centers that have embraced solar panels and other sustainable rooftop efforts include: Atlantic City Convention Center, which has both a wind turbine and solar power; McCormick Place, which is planning a green roof expansion; the NRG Center in Houston, which will install solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and LED lighting; and the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, which also has a solar array. Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas has a 6.2 megawatt rooftop installation, which is among the largest rooftop solar installation in the world.
Other Mega Centers focus their sustainability efforts on reducing waste and making an effort to reuse materials like carpeting and other exhibit booth materials after a show is over. Among this group is the OCCC in Orlando, which works with donation partners in central Florida to reuse show materials; and the Colorado Convention Center which not only recycles materials but earned a Level 1 ASTM Environmental Meetings & Shows Third-Party Sustainable Practices Certification for its efforts. Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Canada also holds ASTM certification and has a Zero Waste Event Management program.
Sustainability programs also branch into other sectors at the Mega Centers on this year’s list. Those include the Las Vegas Convention Center’s partnership with waste haulers for above-average waste diversion among convention centers and an ECO Sustainable Development Project at the Las Vegas Sands Expo & Convention Center, which is part of a company-wide integrated sustainability program. The Sands also offers planners a green meeting concierge to help with planning. The Music City Center in Nashville, meanwhile, offers organizers a sustainable meetings program handbook. Moscone Center embraces sustainable travel in part through free vouchers to convention attendees for use on the San Francisco area’s BART train system.
Most of these centers also have taken part in the annual Green Venue Report issued by the GMIC, illustrating the ongoing importance of sustainable efforts in the trade show sector.
With all the activity ongoing and in the wings, the outlook is bright for trade show organizers eager to find new and larger space both indoors and out. Current projects also are likely to bring other changes to this list next year and into the foreseeable future.
1550 S. Indiana Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
Phone: (312) 922-8558
Content may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means
without the written permission of the Publisher.