City business and political leaders around the country are figuring out how to best spend their allotted budgets to expand their local convention centers as the business climate improves and revenue from conventions, conferences and events becomes more competitive among convention center cities. Many cities look at the expansion plans for the Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando convention centers and roll their eyes, as if to say “how can we ever compete with these cities if they keep getting bigger?” Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas are considered the top meeting destinations in the country, often jockeying for a No. 1 spot. Las Vegas received its fifth straight No. 1 ranking as a meeting and convention destination by the World Travel Awards.
Trade-show organizers and meeting planners have not only been praising a nearly $500 million proposal to expand Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), but also have asked local officials to speed up what could be a 41/2-year construction timeline. Convention center officials announced plans to build two new additions at the convention center’s North-South Building that would add up to 800,000 total square feet, paid for with proceeds from the tourist development tax.
Last year the OCCC launched a VR-enabled 3-D interactive map, a system that allows meeting planners to virtually explore OCCC’s total of 7 million sf through 360-degree panoramic images, which makes it easy for meeting and event planners to search for ideal meeting spaces and breakout rooms.
In Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee approved a plan that would breathe new life into the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and create a district around it. That project would add 600,000 sf of exhibit space, a landscaped public space and long-term plans for a transportation hub. In January 2018, work began on the second phase of the expansion and renovation plans. The project, when fully completed, is expected to draw an additional 600,000 visitors a year, drive $2.1 billion in economic activity during construction and have an annual incremental economic impact of $810 million. Phase two of the project is expected to be completed in 2020. After that, workers will move on to renovating the existing 3.2-million-sf facility, an approach that allows the convention center to not displace any conventions due to construction.
There are similar projects up and down The Strip, including major investments by MGM Resorts International with convention center expansions at Aria ($150 million), Mandalay Bay ($70 million) and the MGM Grand ($130 million). The upgrades will help Vegas hold off such competitors as New York City ($1.5 billion expansion of the Javits Center) and San Francisco ($500 million upgrade of the Moscone Center).
One goal of the Las Vegas Convention Center District expansion is to keep the big trade shows in town, like the huge Automotive Aftermarket Industry and Consumer Electronics shows. These big events can bring more than 140,000 attendees each to town. Six other regular shows bring more than 50,000 to town each year. It all adds up to millions, in terms of visitor numbers and entertainment spending.
Caesars Entertainment Corporation is planning its own $375 million, 550,000-sf conference center in Las Vegas, named Caesars Forum. When completed, the new venue will include 300,000 sf of flexible meeting space, equivalent to over five football fields, two 108,000-sf ballrooms, two 40,000-sf ballrooms, state-of-the-art boardrooms and a 100,000-sf outdoor plaza. Scheduled to officially open in 2020, Caesars expects to break ground in mid-2018.
In October 2017, Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the country, opened the 10,387-seat Wintrust Arena at McCormick Square specifically for sporting events. A new Marriott Marquis Chicago, which opened on the McCormick Place campus in August 2017 with 1,205 guest rooms and, 90,000 sf of meeting space, is 40 stories tall and offers amazing views over the lakefront and booming South Loop neighborhood. The Marriott is connected via sky bridges to the McCormick Place convention center and the new arena.
Association planners love the size of the McCormick campus and the presence of nearby hotels, restaurants and cultural amenities, especially when organizing large events. “We celebrated the centennial of our association from June 30–July 4, 2017, in Chicago,” says Gloria Geske, CMP, manager, convention division for Lions Clubs International. “We attracted over 30,000 delegates from 150 countries and used close to 10,000 hotel rooms in the official block. Chicago is the place that Lions was founded in 1917.
“McCormick Place is so large, we were able to contain our entire convention in one venue, which was a big plus,” Geske continues. “People could go across the hall from the general sessions to the exhibit hall. So nice not to have to bus them! We had our general sessions with seating for about 20,000 people in Hall B and our Exhibit Hall and Centennial Exhibit were located in the expansive Hall A. We used all of the North and South Buildings. We also used Lakeside Center/Arie Crown Theater for smaller general sessions,” says Geske. “We had two concert events, Chicago and the Beach Boys, and keynote speakers included former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, all in Hall B.”
At the convention centers on our list below, in both large and second-tier cities, expansion plans are underway or just completed, all in an attempt to grow their corporate and association event revenue and compete with their sister cities across the U.S., as well internationally.
The Anaheim Convention Center’s new North building officially opened last September after adding 200,000 sf of flexible meeting space and a 10,000-sf terrace, making the entire Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) complex the largest convention center on the West Coast. Visit Anaheim said that 75 meetings and conventions have already booked the recently expanded North building. With the addition of the new building, the ACC join the “1-million-sf club,” becoming the 11th largest convention center in the U.S. The latest expansion now gives the entire complex a total of 1.8 million sf.
The convention center campus also includes three hotels and 200,000 sf of outdoor plaza space, with 9,109 hotel rooms within a half-mile of the ACC, as well as venues such as Disneyland Resort, Honda Center and Angel Stadium. In 2018 and beyond, several new large hotels will open in Anaheim, including a 466-room JW Marriott, and a 634 room luxury hotel that will replace the Anabella Hotel adjacent to the convention center. A 580-room luxury hotel also is expected to open across from Anaheim Garden Walk.
Denver city officials recently announced plans for a $233 million expansion of the Colorado Convention Center (CCC), located within walking distance of 10,000 hotel rooms. The expansion will include an additional 80,000 sf of ballroom and meeting space; and 100,000 sf of prefunction and service space that also will include a 50,000-sf outdoor rooftop terrace featuring views of the Rocky Mountains. Lots of floor-to-ceiling windows promise to take advantage of the 300 days of sunshine Denver enjoys. Videostreaming and increased Wi-Fi capacity also are part of the planned renovation. The CCC currently offers 100,000 sf of meeting space on one level and 584,000 sf of exhibit space. Lobby renovations in the existing convention center also are planned. Construction is projected to begin in late 2019.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center expansion project will add an additional 400,000 sf of meeting space and an upscale 800-room headquarters hotel. The total cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $550 million, with construction expected to begin this year, with a soft opening in 2021.
Presently, the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center offers a 600,000-sf venue offering flexible space consisting of four exhibit halls, two ballrooms and 31 meeting rooms. It is located on 17 acres of land adjacent to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and the Intracoastal Waterway.
“We organized the Seatrade Cruise Global industry trade show at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center in March, and our attendance at the venue was about 10,000,” says Scott Dominguez, executive director, event operations, for the San Francisco office of UBM Americas, a firm that organizes over 300 market-leading B2B events every year. The firm’s head office is in London, with regional offices in New York and Hong Kong.
“It was important for us to meet at a location that was convenient to the cruise industry leaders, that had a professional catering team capable of servicing critically important exhibitor in-booth hospitality orders, and provided outstanding customer service from convention service staff,” says Dominguez, adding that the staff at the convention center were very suitable hosts, “going beyond expectations to ensure success for all involved.”
An ambitious project to remake Houston’s convention center and the surrounding streets was completed at the beginning of 2017 with the Houston First Corporation wrapping up construction on the $175 million initiative that included the renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC), now offering more than 2 million sf of meeting space, the new Partnership Tower office building, a 1,900-space garage and a 97,000-sf pedestrian plaza in front of the convention center called Avenida Houston, with new restaurants, public art and entertainment.
Meeting planners like the proximity of the GRBCC to the Marriott and to the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, as it is situated between both. “We held our annual conference in Houston in April 2017, with 1,400 attendees,” says Reagan J. Alexander, CMP, manager, event strategy, for the Tampa-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) — Business Education. “Houston was a good option for us as it was held between our annual conference in Boston the year prior and Honolulu in 2018. Houston offered great accessibility for our global membership, with a wonderful downtown atmosphere that hosted many dining options and was easy to navigate, in addition to the great weather in April. The GRBCC and the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel were combined to accommodate our conference and ancillary meetings.
“The Hilton-Americas was our HQ hotel and a great host this event,” says Alexander. “As a seasoned meeting planner, I found the hotel staff were more than accommodating and provided five-star hospitality. A few months after our Houston event a colleague and I attended a conference at the same property and the hotel banquet staff remembered us! It was like ‘going home again.’ ”
In 2017 the city council in Kansas City passed the last remaining measure necessary for construction of a $310 million convention center hotel that broke ground last year. The Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel will offer 800 guest rooms, several restaurants, indoor lap pool, 60,000 sf of meeting and event space, and will connect directly to the Kansas City Convention Center via pedestrian bridge. The new property is expected to open in early 2020.
Many planners like to organize events in Kansas City both for its affordability and its convenient mid-America location. “We worked with a large fast food chain on their annual franchisee meeting and trade show,” says Sarah Williams of BCD Meetings & Events, headquartered in Chicago. “We had about 2,800-3,000 participants so we used the KC Convention Center for all of our exhibitors’ show booths, all the venue’s meeting rooms, breakout sessions and for the final night dinner. It was a three-day event, so everyone was happy with nearby hotels for the multi-night accommodations, which included the KC Marriott Downtown, the Hilton President, the Hotel Philips and others.
“I definitely would recommend that planners use second-tier cities, like Kansas City, not only for its budget-friendly prices, but the KC Convention Center is within walking distance of several great neighborhoods,” says Williams. “And of course for a national company, flying folks in to Kansas City (International) Airport’s mid-America location from all over the country makes perfect sense.”
The Miami Beach Convention Center will be undergoing a $615 million renovation and expansion. The expanded 1.4-million-sf, LEED-certified facility will include a state-of-the-art, 60,000-sf grand ballroom, additional meeting rooms with flexible arrangements, a 20,000-sf glass rooftop junior ballroom, advanced technology and new versatile indoor/outdoor public spaces. For added convenience, 800 parking spaces located across the street from the center will be relocated to within the footprint of the building, thus allowing the 5.8-acre parking lot to be converted into a public park surrounded by canopy trees, a flexible lawn area, a food pavilion and a public plaza to honor the city’s veterans.
The redesigned and renovated Miami Beach Convention Center will be fully completed in 2018, but is open for business now.
Monterey County opened its newly renovated $60 million Monterey Conference Center in January. It is expected that the new venue will spur the revitalization of the city and bring additional business to all the hotels in the area.
The Monterey Conference Center is a LEED-certified meeting facility, having added solar panels and other sustainability amenities to the venue, and provides 40,000 sf of flexible meeting space, with a capacity of 3,200. The facility is adjacent to the newly renovated Portola Hotel & Spa and connected to the Monterey Marriott. Combined, these properties offer 85,000 sf of flexible meeting space, 19,150 sf of exhibition space and 700 hotel rooms. “What better way to kick off a new year than by welcoming visitors to the new Monterey Conference Center and our destination,” says Tammy Blount, president and CEO of the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We see the facility as a regional hub of innovation that will capitalize on our destination’s natural allure, and together, help drive new thinking for group attendees.”
Construction officially kicked off in March 2017 for the $1.5 billion overhaul of New York’s iconic meetings and trade show venue. The renovations, which should be complete in 2021, will see the convention center’s space increase by 50 percent and will result in a 500,000-sf exhibition hall, a 55,000-sf ballroom, the largest in the New York area, 27 new loading docks, a pavilion and a 6.75-acre green rooftop terrace that has already become a sanctuary for area birds.
The updated venue is expected to create a $393 million boon for the city’s economy and generate 3,100 construction jobs. “The Javits Center is one of New York State’s greatest economic assets, and this project will turn this building into a 21st century marvel, a convention center of the caliber that New York deserves,” said Empire State Development president, CEO and commissioner Howard Zemsky. “With these new state-of-the-art facilities, we will be able to attract the world’s best conferences and events and drive economic activity throughout the region for decades to come.”
The expansion and renovations also will help the neighborhood around the building with a new onsite truck marshaling, loading and storage facility that will relocate 20,000 event-related trucks off area streets each year, improving neighborhood traffic flow and pedestrian safety. As a result, the move-in and move-out process for events will be reduced by 30 percent, leading to an additional 20 days for new events and additional economic activity.
In 2016 San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center unveiled its $325 million expansion. The facility is now 1.6 million sf, with 514,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space. There are 70 meeting rooms and a 54,000-sf ballroom.
The expanded center is set on the River Walk in historic downtown, placing attendees within steps of the city’s historic sites, including the Alamo, as well as local restaurants, museums, theaters, shops and thousands of hotel rooms. Walls of windows bring in downtown views, including the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas.
“The 40th anniversary of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium held on December 5-9, was held at the Henry B. González Convention Center, and was a major success,” says Richard Markow, director symposia, at the UT Health San Antonio Cancer Center. “We had about 7,400 attendees and chose the venue not only because it is located in the city where our institution is located, but the size of the venue, costs and the quality of the space fit in nicely with our needs.”
Markow says that his organization also needed to contract with 28 nearby hotels for attendee rooms, with the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter as the HQ property. The annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium has become one of the largest breast cancer meetings in the world, with approximately half of attendees coming from more than 90 countries outside of the U.S. More than 7,000 oncologists, cancer researchers and patient advocates attend, generating $19 million for the city. AC&F