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Meeting, Exhibit Space Tightening at Anaheim Convention Center;  Anaheim Currently Ranks No. 6 in the Nation in Trade Shows. Expansion on the Way?
By Sandi Cain, Orange County Business Journal Staff
January 2007

Like Disneyland, convention centers never are complete.

The changing needs of the industry, trade show trends and technology can alter the demands for meeting and exhibit space.
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Anaheim Convention Center: possible expansion
to create more meeting, exhibit space
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Since the Anaheim Convention Center’s last expansion in 2000, meetings have become more education intensive, requiring more space to handle multiple small sessions.

That can leave the convention center on the short end of the stick.

“We’d definitely use more meeting space,” said Janet Skorpena, associate executive director of education and scientific meetings for the American Urological Association. The group’s trade show is bringing about 17,000 people to Orange County in May.

“If we could build another room, we would,” she said.

Convention center officials have looked at ways to remedy the imbalance, including conversion of less-used exhibit space to meeting room space.

They’ve also looked at adding two divisible junior ballrooms on the third floor, which were cut from the last expansion plans to save money.

Greg Smith, executive director of the conventions, sports and entertainment department for the city of Anaheim, and his task force have looked at removing a parking lot off West Street—Car Park 1—and replacing it with underground parking topped by meeting space.

They’ve even thought about building a separate facility like San Francisco did with Moscone West. A meeting planner advisory panel was lukewarm about the idea.

And while groups can use space at the Hilton Anaheim or Anaheim Marriott, meeting and trade show planners prefer adjacent space, Smith said.

Attendees don’t always find their way to the sessions or exhibit areas offsite, planners said. Show organizers also find it challenging to sell exhibit space in satellite buildings.

“We want one big hall, column-free,” said Kevin Johnstone, director of trade shows for the International Music Products Association’s NAMM, Anaheim’s biggest convention. “That doesn’t exist (anywhere),” he said.

Growing Exhibitors

Meeting room space might not be the only issue at the convention center. Now that trade shows are growing again, Anaheim could run out of exhibit space for its largest conventions.

A report from the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association last year said that the average amount of exhibit hall space used increased 12.4% during the past five years and the number of exhibitors has increased 15.7%.

Healthcare conventions represent roughly a quarter of the convention market. It’s a market where Anaheim lags next to other cities when it comes to meeting space.

“Big shows are getting bigger,” Smith said. “If you don’t have big shows, replacing them is challenging.”

Convention center events grew 2% from 2005 to 2006 and 16% in 2004, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Attendance grew 3.2% in 2006. Sixty percent of the convention centers in the Pricewaterhouse survey said they have more demand for exhibit space than they did in 1999 to 2000, according to Robert Canton, a director in the company’s hospitality and leisure practice.

The trend is expected to continue.

Anaheim expects to see a 45% increase in conventions this year compared to 2006, said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Sandy Voss, trade show director for the 40,000-attendee Natural Products Expo West, said the show is tight on meeting space for now, but could max out exhibit space in a couple of years at current growth rates.

She said she’s hoping the new Anaheim Marriott ballroom will help alleviate any crowding.

“Our goal is to stay in Anaheim where our audience is and where our show was built,” Voss said.

Anaheim currently ranks No. 6 in the nation in trade shows—4% of the market—behind Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

“We’re in the second largest market in the U.S., so the market is there (for expansion),” Ahlers said.

Initial Plans

St. Louis-based architects Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum Inc. has been asked to draw up preliminary plans for another expansion, Smith said. Plans include moving parking lot Car Park 1 underground and building meeting and exhibit space above it. Another alternative: ex-tending an exhibit hall around the Arena.

Officials also are considering a stand-alone building where there’s currently a parking lot, facing Katella Avenue in front of the Hilton Anaheim. It would connect to the convention center. Ballroom and exhibit space in the new building could be divided into meeting space when needed.

The building is roughly estimated to cost about $150 million, Smith said, not including a parking structure. “It would be a benefit to all and increase our ability for meeting-room-heavy (groups),” he said.

Convention service contractors—those who provide exhibit booth and other services—agree that the convention center needs to think about expanding.

“There’s a lot of concern from major shows that they could outgrow meeting room space,” said Tom Robbins, vice president and general manager of GES Exposition Services in Cypress.

Anaheim needs to remain competitive with other cities for conventions and trade shows—something an expansion would help with.

“An increase in the amount of meeting space is needed for getting certain types of business,” said Marty Cymbal, vice president and general manager of the Western region for Freeman in Anaheim.

For now, the plans are only ideas. No city money has been given to them yet. But Ahlers and Smith are hopeful that may change soon, thanks to larger shows that plan far in advance.

“There are only six cities in the U.S. that can accommodate our show,” NAMM’s Johnstone said. “Large shows that rotate (locations) have to think 15 years out,” he said. “That’s what show managers are paid to do.”

The convention center is looking to the future in more immediate ways.

A deal struck last year with Anschutz Entertainment Group to fill open dates at the Anaheim Arena could end up benefiting meeting planners. Anschutz Entertainment Group and Anaheim also are talking about the possibility of offering the company’s services to book talent for conventions, Smith said.

“The purchasing power of AEG makes (that) more doable as an added service for planners, whose business isn’t staging concerts,” he said.

Trade show organizers are likely to be happy with another perk: gig-to-floor service at the convention center to make it easier for exhibitors to use streaming video and other high-demand services.

The convention center also is working on a radio frequency identification system to help track equipment, supplies and people in the center.

The city was one of 12 nationwide that got a $500,000 Homeland Security grant to work on a variety of security programs.

The Department of Homeland Security earlier this month gave OC high marks for its emergency communications plan. Since 2001, meeting planners increasingly have been asking questions about safety and security when choosing a destination.


Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.
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Contact:

Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA
949-497-2680
sdcain31@cox.net
 

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Also See: Anaheim Considers Business Improvement District to Fund Convention Center Growth / Sandi Cain / January 2005
Anaheim Convention Center Occupancy at Post-renovation High of 81.8%, Future Bookings Solid / Sandi Cain / August 2004

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