This Just In
  • Detroit’s Cobo Center receives ASTM Venue Standard recertification, having first received certification in 2015.
  • Host to this year’s Sustainable Brands Conference, Cobo Center was the 9th facility in 2015 to receive ASTM Venue Standard certification.
  • Convention Data Services broke ground on its new corporate headquarters in mid-March. The approximate 30,000-sf building opens in Q1 2018.
  • The new digs are next to the current CDS HQ in Bourne, Mass. The construction will accommodate the company’s growth and create new jobs.
  • China’s Shenyang New World EXPO opened March 1, hosting 2 exhibitions in its first month of operation, with a third to be held 23-25 March.
  • To date, the largest event was a dental equipment and oral health exhibition, open 16-19 March, which drew more than 39,000 attendees.

2015 Kicks Off with Steady Pace of Convention Center Expansions, Renovations and New Builds

Sandi Cain
, News Editor
March 1, 2015

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Oceanside, CA - For many convention centers on the drawing boards, the path from construction to ribbon-cutting can be long and arduous with detours and changes along the way. Even so, 21 venues have taken at least one step in the direction of new convention space, ranging from the discussion or feasibility stage to legislative approval and design. (See sidebar, “Proposed Centers.”) This is just one less facility on the list than in the last semi-annual edition of Trade Show Executive’s Pardon Our Dust in October 2014.

Five of last year’s proposed centers are definite goes, with construction scheduled to start or already begun at the Boise Centre (Boise, ID), George R. Brown Convention Center (San Antonio, TX), Greenville Convention Center (Greenville, NC), Kentucky International Convention Center (Louisville, KY) and Miami Worldcenter (Miami, FL).

“The improvements to our product (at the Kentucky International Convention Center) will position Louisville well in a very competitive hospitality industry and encourage further growth,” said Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Karen Williams.

The Boise Center is forging ahead even though it may need a cash infusion to complete construction if a financing bond isn’t approved. Executive director Pat Rice last Fall said there was enough cash to at least complete the first phase of construction without the bond. “We’ll build the ballroom and lease the meeting room from the building until the rest (of the cash) is raised,” he said.

A few of these projects are expected to move quickly and be completed next year or sooner. Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City’s 125,000 square feet (sf) of meeting space will be a welcome addition to the city, according to Gary Musich, vice president of convention development for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. “We desperately need more meeting facilities,” he said.

On the flip side, the Lexington Convention Center, previously listed, had hoped to break ground this year but has instead tabled expansion for now.

Target Dates, from 2015 to 2019

Meanwhile, the Trade Show Executive (TSE) Convention Center Construction Calendar (see sidebar) reflects a lot of activity already underway. This report provides a timetable of 24 venues in the U.S. and Canada with construction in progress. The last edition in October featured 21 convention centers in this stage. 

The Pasadena Convention Center (Pasadena, CA) was the first center in 2015 to cut the ribbon on new space, with the re-opening of the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium Hall, also called Exhibit Hall C, in February. The New Tropicana Las Vegas - a DoubleTree by Hilton will follow this month with the completion of its expansion, doubling its exhibition space to a milestone 50,000 sf. Five additional venues will finish expansions later this year.

In announcing the expansion at the New Tropicana, Gavin Mealiffe, vice president of sales, said the new space “will be an appealing feature for organizers of larger corporate meetings and events and allows easy access for group attendees.”

In 2016, seven venues, three new, are expected to complete construction. Two of the centers, the existing Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and the new arena proposed by AEG and MGM Resorts International, are located in Las Vegas. With another two venues in the city considering new space as well (see sidebar, “Proposed Centers”), the city continues to work at increasing its draw for event organizers.

In 2017, another seven venues, one new, will offer additional space to the North American market. Two centers will complete their expansions in 2018. And in 2019, the new Oklahoma City Convention Center (Oklahoma City, OK), will cut the ribbon on 200,000 sf of prime exhibit space and 50,000 sf of meeting space. One venue, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, has not finalized a construction schedule, but site preparation is underway.

New and Newer

Projects now underway include a mix of new and existing facilities in the early planning stages. The Austin Convention Center (Austin, TX) and Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center (Dallas, TX) are already listed within the Trade Show Executive World’s Top Convention Centers (WTCC), ranking 53rd and 10th among U.S. venues respectively. Both are in the very early stages of their proposals with few specified plans, though the team in Dallas is focusing more on additional meeting space for their Millionaire’s Club venue rather than exhibit space. (The Trade Show Executive Millionaire’s Club includes centers featuring 1 million sf or more of prime exhibit space.)

The Pueblo Convention Center, also already in operation, is seeking to expand, aiming to nearly double its size. Currently, the Colorado venue offers less than 20,000 sf of prime exhibit space (and therefore is not tracked in the WTCC).

The cities of Bristol, TN, and Jacksonville, FL, are considering entirely new venues. Both are conducting feasibility studies to guide further discussion. In the meantime, Oakland, CA, is considering options for the closed Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and has asked developers for ideas that include mixed-use space. Other cities are in similar “states” but much more likely to develop projects smaller than 50,000 sf of prime exhibit space and therefore are not tracked in this report; examples include proposed projects in Natchez, MS; Seaside, OR; and Muskegon, MI.

Jumping Over Hurdles

All of them, no matter what size, face the same hurdles: financing, legislative approvals, public opinion, site selection, and appealing design, among other issues. Often, they are dealing with more than one challenge at a time. A center may bounce back and forth — or multitask — between financing, design, site selection and approvals depending on the process, and each can differ in which step is taken next.

For instance, with its feasibility study now in hand, development for the Meadowlands Sport Complex (East Rutherford, NJ) is back under discussion as a plan is put together. The Washington State Convention Center has most of its financing in place, but not all, and most of the land purchase complete, but not all. The San Diego Convention Center has simultaneously dealt with financing and approvals, though not as successfully as hoped, and may now find itself once again in front of the drawing board.

In late February, Las Vegas again flexed its considerable muscle as the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) approved a contract to purchase the former Riviera Hotel & Casino’s 26-acre site near the existing convention center. It is envisioned as the cornerstone of the evolving Las Vegas Global Business District that is expected to add 750,000 sf of new exhibit space as part of a 1.8 million sf convention center expansion. At the signing, LVCVA president and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter said the deal would “ensure Las Vegas’ meeting and convention industry remains the envy of the world for decades to come.”

Dreams Intertwined

Other cities are beginning to find their destinies intertwining. Los Angeles’ bid for an NFL football team as part of a proposal tied to new convention space is shaking up the field, particularly for the cities thought to be at risk giving up their team to the city. In San Diego, the stalled convention center progress has left room to discuss a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers in an effort to keep the team in the southern tip of Southern California, while in Oakland, home of the Oakland Raiders, talk of a new stadium supported both a bid to keep their football team to the north as well as a bid for the 2024 Olympics, which have since been awarded to Boston. And when St. Louis denied the St. Louis Rams a new stadium, talk of their moving back to Los Angeles took a more serious turn.

In a surprise mid-February announcement, the Chargers and Raiders announced they are working on a privately financed Los Angeles venue on a 168-acre site in Carson, southwest of downtown Los Angeles, which they would share. That leaves other stadium proposals in Los Angeles and San Diego tied to the convention centers in limbo for now.

Many more steps will be taken before it all shakes out:  on the field, in the boardrooms — and in convention centers that may open or close. When our next edition runs in October, more details may be available. Check back then for the latest chapter.

Reach Pat Rice at (208) 489-3650 or pat_rice@boisecenter.com; Karen Williams at (502) 584-2121 or kwilliams@gotolouisville.com; Gary Musich at (609) 449-7110 or gmusich@accva.com; Gavin Mealiffe at (702) 739-2222 or gmealiffe@troplv.com; Rossi Ralenkotter at (702) 892-0711 or president@lvcva.com