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Bucking Convention - Anaheim Center Expansion
Seems to Pay Off as Other Cities Struggle
By Sandi Cain 
Staff Reporter Orange County Business Journal
November 2002

The high-flying 1990s spawned a frenzy of convention center building, expansion and remodeling. The tough going of the early 2000s is sorting out winners and losers. 

In Los Angeles, Boston and Houston, expanded centers haven’t lived up to rosy projections. Boston expected 38 conventions its first year. Instead, it has 18 through 2013. The Los Angeles Convention Center only has 16 events booked for 2003, down from 35 in 2001. 

Anaheim, which did its share of sprucing up a few years back, has seen better results so far. 

Future bookings are up since the expansion was finished in December 2000. So far this year, the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau has booked 78 groups into the convention center, up from 67 in 2001. As of early October, 69 groups were booked for 2003. 

“I can’t think of an expansion that has had a more positive impact than in Anaheim,” said Doug Ducate, president of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Chicago. 

The 60,000-member National Association of Music Merchants—which had outgrown the old convention center—returned to Anaheim in 2000. New business from groups such as the 2,500-member Professional Convention Management Association also has bolstered Anaheim’s numbers. 

That’s not to say Anaheim isn’t feeling the industry’s pain. In the wake of last year’s tourism downturn, the city’s hotel bed tax was 15% below projections for fiscal year 2001-2002, bringing in just shy of $58 million. 

Bed tax revenue so far for fiscal year 2002-03 is “on target,” said Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti. 

The Anaheim Convention Center has several things in its favor. One is location. There are an estimated 21 million people within the so-called ‘drive market’ of Anaheim. 

Restrictions on business travel since last fall—coupled with increased travel time from more airport security—have made regional events more attractive for some groups. 

“Our (regional) population helps drive our success,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. 
Landing the Chicago-based Professional Convention Management Association—a trade group of meetings industry officials—was a coup for Anaheim, Ahlers contends. 

“It’s their first meeting here since 1989,” he said. “It’s a huge deal for us.” 
About 60% of the city’s meetings business comes from association members, Ahlers said. Since 1996 (the first year for which data is available), those members have generated 2,400 meetings and 6.4 million nightly hotel stays in the Anaheim area, he said. 

Convention industry trends have helped Anaheim, too, according to Ducate. 
“The current climate plays into the hands of those who have already done expansions,” he said. “Those now under construction may not be so successful.” 

According to industry publication Tradeshow Week, 16 cities have opened new centers or expanded facilities this year, including Seattle, Reno and Las Vegas. Another 87 new or expanded venues are set to be done by 2010. 
In Anaheim, the convention center—once in danger of losing half of its business without an expansion—has 1.6 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space and is one of the largest facilities on the West Coast. 
Although few shows use the entire facility, its size allows it to host more than one show at a time. 

An emerging trend, Ducate said, is for trade shows to jointly share facilities—and sometimes attendees—to cut costs and lure exhibitors and visitors. 

That’s what the Medical Design & Manufacturing show has done. Last February, the show brought about 22,000 people to Anaheim for two shows. Next year, it’s expecting that number to grow to about 40,000, in part because it has teamed with Westpack, Pacific Design, Plastec West, Electronics West and Nutritionals to create a super show for medical professionals. 
Anaheim’s other edge: plenty of hotels, including many built in the past few years. Meeting planners seek cities with a lot of rooms near a convention center. 

That’s where some cities—notably Houston, Boston and Los Angeles—have hit snags. 

New hotels haven’t materialized in those markets, Ducate said, hurting their ability to lure big conventions. 

“L.A.’s biggest problem is Anaheim,” he said. 

Anaheim has about 7,500 rooms within a mile of the Convention Center and is home to 17 of the county’s 50 largest hotels. And the four largest hotels in the city have another 287,000 square feet of meeting space among them. 

Anaheim’s rival San Diego—which finished its convention center makeover last year—will have a chance to show off in January when the city will host the Super Bowl. Even though a Super Bowl can eat up more than 100,000 hotel rooms, other events are set to take place during the week. 

Carol Wallace, chief executive of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., operator of the center, said two shows—including one hosted by Oracle Corp.—are slated at the center just before the Super Bowl. 

Big League 

Anaheim got an unexpected chance to show the city to the world last week when the Anaheim Angels made their debut in the World Series. 

About 20 area hotels posted special World Series packages on Web sites and through the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. Restaurants near Edison International Field designed baseball menus and offered Angels bobbleheads to draw crowds. 

And the Autry Museum of Western Heritage put together a special display featuring original Angels owner Gene Autry and the Angels. 

Officials estimated that retail sales of Angels and World Series goods, plus an uptick in restaurant and hotel revenue, could generate up to $10 million in funds for the city. 

City spokesman John Nicoletti said there’s no way to predict how Angels fever might translate into long-term business. But he’s sure of one thing: the free publicity is a plus. 

“In marketing, the goal is always to be top of mind,” he said. “Having the Anaheim name on those uniforms is priceless.”

Sandi Cain is copy editor and a staff reporter covering hospitality,tourism, travel and sports. 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.


Sandi Cain 
Staff Reporter 
Orange County Business Journal

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