This Just In
  • The AHLA says the Dept. of Homeland Security will expand the number of H-2B seasonal guest worker visas available for this fiscal year.
  • The increase in H2-B visas will help small and seasonal businesses to meet workforce demands critical in peak tourist periods.
  • SMG signed a 3-year agreement to continue managing Cobo Center in Detroit. SMG has been the management firm for Cobo since 2010.
  • Highlights of SMG’s tenure include oversight of a major renovation, reduced operating deficit and creation of a technology department.
  • Ground was broken June 20 on the expansion of the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The 250,000-sf project will wrap up next year.
  • The $130 million expansion includes two new ballrooms, 11 breakout rooms and additional space for the center’s Stay Well Meetings feature.
  • The Louisville Downtown Marriott Hotel is undergoing a $30 million renovation slated for completion in August 2018. The hotel remains open.
  • The Marriott is attached to the Kentucky International Convention Center and offers 50,000 sf of meeting space and 616 guest rooms.
  • AEG plans to acquire four acres in downtown Nashville to be developed as a mixed-use entertainment district at SWVP’s Nashville Yards.
  • The mixed-use district will be anchored by a 4,000-capacity music hall, luxury theatre, live entertainment club, boutique hotel & more.

New Convention Space Supporters View the Economy as a Reason to Build, Rather Than an Excuse Not To

Renee Diiulio
, Senior Editor
April 2, 2012

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There is no denying convention construction has been slow. A look at the last two editions of Trade Show Executive’s Semi-Annual Pardon Our Dust shows that commitment to new space has been difficult to secure. Few new projects were undertaken, and construction figures dropped to new lows.

But some space supporters are starting to push harder, using the economy as a reason to build rather than an excuse not to. It’s an old argument but one that has grown more appealing with a stagnating economy. At the same time, trade shows are back in a growth mode, with some reaching record highs.

Not surprisingly, with such philosophical differences among sides, the discussions about such projects take longer. To try to avoid this and help build early support, the process behind convention center growth is changing.

Announcements are becoming grander — consider New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s vision to build the nation’s largest convention center in Queens, NY — and arguments are taken directly to the public. Videos extolling the virtues of venues and the advantages of new space can be found on convention center web sites, online news stations and even YouTube; a search for clips on convention center expansion yields just over 300 hits.

Of course, even during a space race (and we are not in such a situation at present), construction of such magnitude does not occur overnight. This edition of Pardon Our Dust has not seen a significant difference in numbers of projects, though they are up slightly. The report details information on projects underway at 10 North American convention centers (the same as in October) and lists 23 additional venues considering new space (22 in October), either through expansion or fresh builds. On the construction calendar, three centers — the Baton Rouge River Center (LA); Kalahari Convention Center in Sandusky, OH; and St. Cloud River’s Edge Convention Center (MN) — have already opened doors on new space this year.

Breaking Ground

The years 2012 and 2013 are the busiest on the calendar, with five centers planning to complete construction in each of these years. Then things slow down considerably. Proposed projects will likely fill it out once again, but if approved, they can be expected to open at later dates, past Detroit’s 2015 planned completion of the expansion/renovation to Cobo Center. Few can be expected to get shovels in the ground quickly.

Obstacles vary, but each has its unique challenges that require time to overcome. Despite the hype, the discussion regarding Governor Cuomo’s proposal is just starting, and though a new center may be financed by private money, there will be some government commitment necessary, requiring approvals. The proposed expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center is currently linked to a stadium proposal tied to the city’s acquisition of an NFL team (with varying predictions for success). And other centers, such as the San Diego Convention Center, continue to finesse designs and financing.

The Northern Kentucky Convention Center, which currently offers 46,200 square feet of exhibit space and 13,288 square feet of meeting space, would like to add about 20,000 square feet of ballroom/flex space adjacent to the exhibit hall and 14 to 20 meeting rooms measuring roughly 1,300 square feet each. The goal is to complete the as-yet-unapproved project by 2017, 2019 at the latest to be able to secure shows.

The venue currently averages approximately 160 events annually but loses shows that outgrow the available space, according to Gretchen Landrum, executive director of the center. In a podcast aired by Strategic Advisors, LLC, she discussed the positive economic impact that comes with increased convention business, an argument echoed by many supporters of proposed builds.

Reasons to Build

In a video looking ahead to what industry watchers expect to be a successful bid for expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre, a former president of the center recalls how the original development of the venue helped to clean up and revitalize the city.

When announcing his intent to make New York the number one convention site in the nation during his 2012 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo said, “This will bring to New York the largest events, driving demand for hotel rooms and restaurant meals and creating tax revenues and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Noting that convention space expansion, particularly at the Jacob K. Javits Center, has been talked about for years in New York, he said, “But today is different, because today I propose we do something about it.”

As the economy brightens, many more may take up the similar but well-worn argument: build it and visitors will come. Trade Show Executive will continue to watch and report on the happenings in this market. Read the next edition of Pardon Our Dust in October.

Reach Gretchen Landrum at (859) 261-1500 or glandrum@nkycc.com; Klaus Lahr, president and CEO, Winnipeg Convention Centre, at (204) 957-4501, klausl@wcc.mb.ca