June 18, 2024 4:51 AM
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Talk on the Tradeshow Floor: Convention Centers are in Expansion Mode Everywhere!

Pictured clockwise: Austin CC, Huntington CC of Cleveland, Tampa CC and Overland Park CC

by Jeanne Brei

Salt Palace CCThis week’s buzz on the tradeshow floor is how many convention centers are in the middle of expansion mode or planning expansions. And even playing online video games, you’re treated to frequent 30 second promotional videos for the convention centers in Austin and Denver—each touting their upcoming expansions. The Denver video’s voiceover sounds like it was written in Dr. Seuss’ rhyme scheme and proudly declares that the new coming expansion will feature a new 80,000 sq.ft. ballroom and a 20,000 sq.ft. terrace with beautiful views. There’s also a 20-second video on the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City—not for an expansion but just to raise awareness as it features customer testimonials on how much they like the Salt Palace and the proximity of the hotels to the CC.

Austin Convention Center-The Austin, Texas online ad declares that the city’s skyline is about to change as the Austin Convention Center (ACC) current project timeline estimates that the building closure, demolition and construction activities will begin in 2025 with completion of the larger facility reopening in 2029. Estimates for the cost of the redevelopment and expansion are currently $1.6 billion, which would be funded from the convention center’s allocation from the municipal hotel occupancy tax and convention center revenues. Plans call for the project to integrate the exterior of the building into the surrounding Palm District, reopening street grids to create a more community centric destination in the southeast corner of downtown. During the building’s demolition and closure from April 2025 through early 2029, the convention center is planning to continue to operate in partnership with nearby hotels and the Palmer Events Center south of downtown.

The ACC opened in 1992 and expanded in 2002. The latest expansion plans are to provide a larger, more efficient facility on a smaller footprint that will be a more active and community-friendly event space in the heart of downtown Austin. The new convention facility could include an underground exhibition hall spanning the entire property, topped by four stories of above-ground space split between two buildings; 709,000 sq.ft. of exhibition halls, meeting rooms and ballrooms—up from 376,000 square feet currently—within a 1 million-square-foot facility; new retail and community artistic space; new outdoor green space along Red River Street available for public events; the reopening of Second and Third streets to multimodal traffic through the property; and a pair of towers adjacent to the convention center created through a public-private partnership. Many of those features are based on previous city planning and a 2021 proof of concept; no details are final. The convention center department says “significant community engagement” will take place through the upcoming design process.

Tom Noonan “Austin is the 11th largest city in the U.S., but currently, we have the 59th largest convention center,” says Tom Noonan, (pictured left) president and CEO of Visit Austin. “In the last few years, we’ve seen roughly 50 percent of our convention center leads lost due to the lack of space or availability, so we know the demand for a new center is there. This new center will allow us to be more competitive within the state and with our major national competitors.”

In May of this year, Austin issued an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for a design and engineering firm for the project that has since closed to submissions. However, still open for submissions are their Request For Proposal (RFP) – Construction Services for Convention Center Redevelopment as well as a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) – Project Management and Technical Services for Convention Center Redevelopment. For more info, visit www.austinconventioncenter.com/contracting/

OCCCIn Orlando, with $330M in revenue generated from a hotel tax at stake, a task force convened for weeks to figure out which projects are worth green lighting. The Orange County Convention Center expansion topped the list of 11 finalists. A handful of tourist industry workers spoke at the final task force meeting last week to support the convention center expansion which was stopped during the lockdowns. The CC  expansion plans include building a ballroom and providing more meeting spaces. But there’s competition—renovations to Camping World Stadium and the Amway Center are numbers two and three on that list.

In the meantime, the OCCC recently signed an agreement with Walt Disney World to offer a new Gold Key Partnership, which provides exclusive benefits for trade shows, corporate events, exhibitors and attendees at OCCC. Walt Disney World was a Gold Key Partner with OCCC prior to the lockdowns, and the venue has existing partnership agreements with Universal and SeaWorld. I have fond memories of a buyout at SeaWorld Orlando during PMA 2001 (Photo Marketing Association) where the tradeshow attendees were treated to food, drink, rides, a private showing with Shamu and a show from Earth, Wind and Fire as well.

Tampa CCAlso, in Florida, the largest renovation project in the history of the Tampa Convention Center in downtown Tampa was recently completed by Skanska USA, a leading construction and development firm. It included a series of capital improvements such as a 23,500-sq.ft. expansion to the facility and the addition of 18,000 sq.ft. of new waterfront rooms that will provide flexible meeting and event space. And, in downtown Jacksonville, the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center is currently undergoing extensive renovations which began in April, that include a full facelift of the historic venue’s more than 200,000 sq.ft. of meeting and exhibition spaces, including the main Exhibit Hall featuring 78,000 sq.ft. of exhibit space, 33-foot ceilings and 22 meeting rooms of various sizes.

Huntington CC of Cleveland 400x300In the Midwest, as part of a $49 million investment, the LEED Gold-certified Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland (HCCC) is getting a face-lift. When completed in summer 2024, the facility’s available space will increase from 475,000 sq.ft. to approximately 553,000 sq.ft. Planners can expect new flexible meeting rooms, a new outdoor terrace, and an expansion of the junior ballroom to double its current size. Infrastructure improvements include new escalators, stairs, restrooms and meeting room tech.

Overland-Park-Convention-CenterAnd there’s also expansions beyond physical renovations, for instance, the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland, Kansas, has introduced the OPCC Exhibition Advantage, a full-service program designed to show appreciation, reduce costs and elevate the show experience for convention and trade show producers, exhibitors and general service contractors. The first-of-its-kind program details include a cash back loyalty program, 50 percent discount at concessions, free internet access and digital content displays, live camera feeds in show office, time lapse video, equipment and tool sharing, swag bags, complimentary coffee and snacks, and more.

McCormick PlaceAnd last, but certainly not least, the news from Chicago is that McCormick Place will have a new management firm and food service provider starting this fall, the first switch for both since the convention center moved to a private management model over a decade ago. The Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority board of directors approved contracts for divisions of Los Angeles-based Oak View Group to run the Near South Side convention center and oversee its food operations. OVG360 and OVG Hospitality will begin respectively as the manager and food service provider on five-year contracts that begin Oct. 1.

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