A Long, Hard Climb
In the world of music, songs can rapidly “climb the charts” to become gold records. What was the first single of an unknown artist can redefine, or even create new genres. In the world of convention centers, a “climb up the charts” occurs at a much slower pace, as does redefinition of what makes an excellent venue in which to host a trade show.
This edition of Trade Show Executive’s Semi-Annual Pardon Our Dust lists 12 centers with construction projects in progress that will expand exhibit space and climb the charts of space rankings and two venues that have completed expansion projects in the First Quarter of this year. None of the centers currently under construction fall within TSE’s Millionaire’s Club (those centers with one million or more square feet of prime exhibit space), and none threaten to expand that particular clique.
Rather, the majority of these centers fall within the smaller facilities category (defined as centers offering less than 125,000 square feet of prime exhibit space). These expanding centers will improve their ranking. Only one venue, the Winnipeg Convention Centre in Manitoba, Canada, will make the leap into a new category, becoming a mid-sized facility (venues ranging from 125,000 square feet to 349,999 sf) from a smaller facility.
Unlike the music charts, however, even a small climb in the ranking can make a big difference in business — at least that is what management would like to see happen. Many expanding centers cite lost business, and the threat of lost business, as reasons to build.
Supporters of the expansion of Cobo Center worried about the loss of the North American International Auto Show and its estimated regional economic impact of $350 to $375 million dollars; same for those who would like to see the San Diego Convention Center expand for Comic-Con International, which brings in approximately $160 million for the region annually.
Of course, in today’s very tight economic times, one show may not be enough of a reason to build more space. Many of the centers expanding have found competition to be tight in general and cite even more lost business due to a lack of space.
Economic impact has been a driver for the approval of the centers that moved from proposal stage to the construction calendar, such as the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio and San Francisco’s Moscone Center, which notes more than $2 billion of lost impact due to lack of space.
Riding the Roller Coaster to Approval
Even with such numbers, getting the go-ahead to build more convention space can seem like a very long roller coaster ride for some centers.
The pendulum for the prospects of a new convention center in Albany, NY, has swung back and forth to an extreme. Even as the Albany Convention Center Authority has been formed, funded and allowed to actively begin acquiring land, the proposed center has been threatened by the economy, the governor (who proposed and then abandoned a new facility in Queens, NY) and, most recently, the mayor, who has publicly discussed significantly scaling down the project. His suggestion: rather than a new convention center, existing space at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center should be improved.
Hopes are not yet completely dashed, however, unlike those for the Nashville Medical Trade Center. Originally slated to open the First Quarter of 2013, development of the niche venue was suspended on October 12, 2012.
“Ending a development venture with such clear benefits for the health care industry has been a difficult decision, but ultimately, we were unable to meet our internal leasing targets. As we said from the outset, we would only proceed if we secured a critical mass of signed, long-term leases from industry leaders that would allow us to confidently take the project into the marketplace for financing,” said Bill Winsor, president and CEO of the Market Center Management Company.
The sluggish U.S. economy, uncertainty in developing health care policies and revenue pressures were cited as major reasons for why those goals were not achieved.
News like this, however, has not impacted the efforts of developers of other centers, even those with similar niche aspirations. AeroQuest USA has been seeking investors for a one million square foot venue in Las Vegas that will include exhibition and conference space and have a focus on the aviation industry. The fact that Las Vegas is already home to two Millionaire’s Club centers and a host of other space has not intimidated the developers, who believe the new venue will offer substantial additional economic value to the city.
Whether the project will actually achieve liftoff remains to be seen, but the hope is that it will be able to join other newcomers on the convention calendar, like Moscone Center (whose actual configuration of new space is yet to be determined).
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