This Just In

Industry First? GWCCA Eyes Management of Savannah Center

DANICA TORMOHLEN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE

Atlanta, GA – In a move that marks an industry first, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) has bid on a contract to manage sales and operations for the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center. SMG, which has managed the center since it opened in March 2000, has also bid on the contract. The current contract is set to expire on March 31, 2014.

The board of the Georgia International & Maritime Trade Center Authority, which oversees the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, is currently reviewing the RFPs and is expected to vote on the proposals when it meets in February. Board Chairman Mark Smith has also said they have the option of taking on the management responsibilities themselves, either alone or in concert with one of the other two. If the GWCCA wins the contract, it could mark the first time that one state authority partners with another to manage its operations.

GWCCA oversees the management of the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. Over the last several years, the GWCC has expanded its revenue streams through partnerships with show organizers and rental fees from organizations besides trade and consumer shows. (See “Is the Convention Center Business Model Broken?” in the March 2013 issue of Trade Show Executive)

“I think this is part of an overall trend for convention centers to be creative in generating revenue for their buildings,” said Vicki Hawarden, president and CEO, International Association of Venue Managers. “Convention centers are looking at new models to see if there’s a more cost-effective way to operate and drive revenue and taxes for their stakeholders.”

The Savannah International Trade & Convention Center offers 100,000 sf of prime exhibit space and 50,000 sf of meeting space, according to Trade Show Executive’s The World’s Top Convention Centers (June 2013). The center renewed its contract with SMG in March 2005 and July 2010.

“We continue to enjoy a close working relationship in Savannah and look forward to exploring various means for extending our relationship,” said Gregg Caren, executive vice president for convention and exhibition centers, SMG, which manages 71 convention centers.

In fiscal year 2014 (ending June 30), the venue is expected to top last year’s record-setting performance in terms of room nights, convention attendance and economic impact, said Caren. The year-end forecast is nearly $200,000 favorable to budget.

Frank Poe, GWCCA executive director, said discussions with Savannah began last summer when the center’s board asked for Atlanta officials to review its convention operations. “We were upfront with the board and told them we didn’t see any inefficiencies in the center’s operations,” said Poe.

“During those discussions, they asked us if there would be any interest in managing the facility,” said Poe. “We discussed it with our board and determined that from a strategic standpoint, it would make sense. It’s more of a strategic partnership than a simple management contract of the facility.”

Whether or not GWCCA wins the contract, the industry is already taking notice. “I see some really interesting potential for this model,” Hawarden said. “I think a lot of people will be watching to see how this turns out. If it works well, there might be others that follow.”

Reach Frank Poe at (404) 223-4000 or fpoe@GWCC.com; Gregg Caren at (610) 729-7922 or GCaren@smgworld.com; Vicki Howarden at (972) 538-1021 or vicki.hawarden@iavm.org