Houston, TX – Texans kept a wary eye south of the border Monday as Hurricane Dean plowed toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Although the Category 5 storm was not expected to strike the Texas Gulf Coast, convention centers had been taking precautions in case the storm took a sudden turn to the north. “Luckily at this point, it doesn’t look like Houston will be affected by Hurricane Dean,” said David Osterhout, operations director at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Osterhout said hurricane season is always a serious time for the center and the entire Houston area. “We had several meetings and briefings last week with the Houston Emergency Management Team in anticipation of any storms that may come to Houston,” he said. “Our staff understands the importance of being ready for any situations that may occur.”
Along with ensuring the safety of trade show exhibitors and attendees, many major convention centers in the Gulf Coast region are on deck to serve as large-scale emergency shelters during and after hurricanes. The International Association of Assembly Managers earlier this year released a guide of best practices for venue managers who could find their buildings pressed into service as so-called mega shelters. The IAAM Mega-Shelter Best Practices Guidelines received an Innovation Award from Trade Show Executive. (See Trade Show Executive, June 2007.)
The two main convention centers in the Yucatan peninsula are the Yucatan Siglo XXI Convention Center in the capital Merida and the Cancun Conventions & Exhibitions Center in the seaside resort city of Cancun. The $90 million Siglo XXI Convention Center, which has 82,408 square feet of prime exhibit space, is located on the leeward side of the peninsula where the hurricane will likely lose some of its strength.
The Cancun Conventions & Exhibitions Center suffered superficial damage in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma roared through. The building, which offers 77,500 square feet of prime exhibit space, was closed for a week while repairs were made. The center could not be reached for comment on Monday, but media reports said most visitors had already left town. Tropical storm warnings were in effect from Cancun north to Progresso.
SMG reported that Dean had no impact on events at the facilities it manages in the Caribbean and Latin America. The storm is forecast to regain strength after crossing the Yucatan peninsula as it moves toward the mainland. Dean is expected to make landfall early Wednesday somewhere near Tampico, likely as a Category 5 storm. About 120 miles south of Tampico is the city of Veracruz and the World Trade Center Veracruz, which offers 96,875 square feet of prime exhibit space.
Dean struck Jamaica Sunday night, leaving streets in Kingston impassable and the entire island without electricity. There was no significant property damage reported. The Jamaican government earlier this month announced plans to build a new convention center at Montego Bay that would open in 2008.
Reach David Osterhout at (713) 853-8013 or David.Osterhout@cityofhouston.net; SMG Senior Regional Vice President, Convention Centers, Thom Connors at (787) 641-7722 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Amadeo Cruz Reyes, World Trade Center Veracruz, at 52-229-923-03-89 or email@example.com