Convention Centers Flex Some Muscle as Construction Projects Increase
Historically, a flexible building meant a big, empty box — all the better to serve as a blank canvas for events of all sizes and complexities, and ranging in displays from technical to glam. Today, convention venues still want to offer the possibilities of a big, empty box, but a literal translation no longer works.
As with most things, yesterday’s reinvention becomes today’s typical and tomorrow’s passé. And as technology is incorporated into infrastructure, the possibilities for the “box” grow and upgrades are even more critical. Current construction projects are as much about new space as they are about new possibilities, and convention and exhibition venues are flexing their muscles to increase their flexibility.
This edition of Trade Show Executive’s Pardon Our Dust lists 17 centers with construction projects in progress that will add space to the facility’s offerings (five more than the March edition). But it’s no longer simply about expanding for exhibits.
Some, such as the Bismarck Civic Center (ND) and the Sioux Falls Convention Center (SD), are responding to their clients’ needs with more prime exhibit space (50,000 square feet more for Bismarck). Others, such as the San Jose Convention Center and the Québec City Convention Centre, are all about adding meeting space. And then there are facilities, most notably Detroit’s Cobo Center, that have focused completely on flex space — space that is designed, decorated and decked out with amenities typical of all types of space, from ballroom space to meeting space to exhibit space.
Other convention and exhibition venues have gone for a combination that effectively serves the needs of existing shows and future iterations of face-to-face. The proportion of exhibit to meeting to flex to ballroom space is determined by each center’s individual needs and forecasts.
Still others have developed unique solutions to space cramps. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center will be constructing a new facility on its campus to be used primarily for sporting events. Should its calendar allow, events within appropriate categories (such as gun and craft shows) may transfer to the new venue to increase the flexibility and permit multiple organizers to use the campus.
And a few, such as the larger Moscone Center in San Francisco and the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, can’t completely commit to specific numbers, choosing to see how the market develops while the project gets underway. Deferral of design to later in the construction process is a new trend, influenced primarily by technology.
The space configuration has already been determined for the new Oklahoma City Convention Center underway in Oklahoma, but the technical specifications have not yet been decided. “We’ll be concentrating on providing the best facility we can provide within our budget, which means a lot of flexible space and whatever the highest level of technology is when the building opens,” says Michael Carrier, CTA, president of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Competing with Construction
The capability to offer the latest and greatest is a value-add for show organizers, whose primary concerns continue to be budget and fit. More flexible space means a fit is more likely. In today’s competitive market, the ability to adapt to a special need could significantly contribute to a signed contract.
For larger venues, this can mean more space. Although the number of mega shows is relatively small, their impact on a host city can be significantly large. The San Diego Convention Center and the Anaheim Convention Center, both mega centers as defined by Trade Show Executive’s World’s Top Convention Centers (350,000 square feet to 999,999 square feet of prime exhibit space), continue to pursue expansion driven by the nationally recognized mega events Comic-Con International and The NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants), respectively.
Smaller venues may find more space increases not only their flexibility but also their reach. The Sacramento Convention Center is hoping to attract groups currently bypassing the region “with a little extra room.”
And new venues have an open book on which to write their exhibition pass. However, they also have a harder case to make. In a tight market, the expenses related to “better space” are an easier argument to justify than “space from scratch.” A mere seven of the 29 centers considering space are new construction, and the Oklahoma venue and Halifax Convention Centre at Nova Centre are the only projects currently underway built from the ground up.
Which of the seven proposed new venues will join Oklahoma and Halifax on the TSE Construction Calendar? Who will announce their construction plans next? Which centers will finish on time? And which are making changes that might suit your show?
Check the next edition in March 2014 to see how construction proposals and projects have panned out.
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