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Anaheim Convention Center Looking to Expand to Capture
Bigger Shows; Targeting Pharmaceutical Industry

By Sandi Cain
Orange County Business Journal Staff

January 2008 - The city of Anaheim’s next convention center expansion could come by 2011, giving the city a boost in its ability to add to the number of conventions, attendees and delegate spending for Orange County. 

The convention center now has 815,000 square feet of exhibit space—the most on the West Coast—and another 130,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space. But as trade shows grow and add educational sessions, they need more room, meeting planners say.

In the meantime, the county’s major convention hub isn’t resting on its laurels. 

The Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau developed a plan to recruit more corporate business that easily fits in its existing space. Then it partnered with area hotels on a jaunt to the East Coast to visit national associations and drug makers to cultivate business. 

This type of customers’ needs can be accomodated in the convention center’s existing space. 

“Corporate business typically needs big areas for general sessions, banquets and exhibits,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “They’re not big on meeting rooms for breakout sessions.”

Corporate groups book on short notice, but typically spend more money and stay longer than other groups.

“They’re not as big as a trade show, but they have good economic impact,” Ahlers said.

Back east, the group talked about what’s new in Anaheim: the makeover at the Hilton Anaheim, the new ballroom and convention space at the Anaheim Marriott, the new Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris steakhouses within a block of the convention center and the first restaurants now open at the long-awaited GardenWalk, two blocks away. 

Brad Logsdon, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Anaheim, is hopeful the recent upgrades will get the attention of drug makers, which spend $1 billion on continuing medical education each year with the majority of that going to meetings.

“Now that they can see the (hotel) renovations and new restaurants, it’s giving a lot of credibility back to Anaheim and people are willing to pay a premium to be here,” Logsdon said.

Anaheim had been seen as having less cachet than other major convention cities.

The convention bureau’s marketing department last year designed an attendee marketing program that helps organizations promote OC to prospective attendees.

More recently, it launched an event venue and group dining guide as a companion piece to its 2008 meeting planner guide. 

Lee Wood, exhibits manager for the Design Automation Conference that will bring 10,000 people to Anaheim this year, said he and his staff spend a lot of time changing the perception prospective attendees might have of Anaheim as nothing more than the “Mouse,” because of Disneyland’s influence.

“We’re really excited about GardenWalk. Everyone has been waiting for it,” he said. “Now we’re waiting to see what happens with the Platinum Triangle.”

The planned Platinum Triangle could add 9,500 homes, 5 million square feet of offices and more than 2 million square feet of other commercial uses, according to the city of Anaheim.

Anaheim gets high marks from meeting planners for the proximity of the Hilton, Marriott and other hotels close to the convention center. As a result, the convention bureau has dubbed the complex “Centerwalk” to emphasize a campus feel. In all, there are almost 9,000 hotel rooms within a mile of the convention center.

By itself, that’s not enough to lure bigger groups, but it helps generate some new business.

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine already is booked for 2009, partly on the strength of the hotels within walking distance of the convention center and the new GardenWalk.

“GardenWalk really clinched it,” said Karen MacFarland, the group’s meetings manager.

The proximity of the hotels also helps expand the total available meeting space for groups booking conferences at the convention center but needing more space.

“The cooperation between the hotels and the convention center is phenomenal,” said Gretchen Bliss, director of meetings and conventions for the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. “We wouldn’t fit in the convention center without (using) the hotels.” 

This year, the city will host some new groups, including the American Library Association, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the International Association of Assembly Managers. 

Another show, Tustin-based PrintFest, is returning to Anaheim after about 25 years. Originally known as the Gutenberg Festival, the show was held in Long Beach last year. Producer Chris Jacobson now has signed on with Anaheim for the next three years.

“Our audience is a drive-in audience,” Jacobson said, “so the Anaheim Convention Center is a better (place) geographically.” 

Jacobson also is hoping to draw more families who will bring the kids to Disneyland and is working with the convention bureau on Disney travel packages for attendees.

Attracting these types of conferences has brought the expected attendance at the convention center to 1 million in 2008.

But Anaheim wants to bump that up even higher by attracting larger conferences and is planning to expand to accommodate them.

The city issued a request for information and qualifications for the expansion earlier this month. Respondents have until late March to submit proposals. 

The city also is seeking a hotel developer to discuss building a hotel as part of the proposed expansion on a current parking lot, according to Greg Smith, executive director of the conventions, sports and entertainment department for the city of Anaheim. 

Those plans won’t create an immediate boost in convention traffic because large shows lock down their contracts five to 10 years early. Also the slowing economy, especially in the real estate sector, could hamper expansion plans.

The city said there’s no question that the expansion is needed.

The International Music Products Association’s NAMM Show—Anaheim’s largest—uses the entire convention center, along with meeting space at the adjacent Marriott and Hilton. Yet NAMM ranked only No. 31 among the largest trade shows in the country last year.

It’s the only one of the largest 50 trade shows in the U.S. that’s held in Anaheim. Of those shows, the top 20 need more exhibit space than the Anaheim Convention Center can offer. 

The largest trade show in the country is the recently concluded International Consumer Electronics Show held annually in Las Vegas. In 2008, it used almost 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space. 

Even so, its organizers say they closely follow expansions in other major convention cities with an eye to the future. Other top trade shows say they do the same, so the potential is always there to draw bigger shows to a new city once facilities are available.

Anaheim’s largest existing shows—including NAMM, Medical Design & Manufacturing and Natural Products Expo West—also continue to grow, creating some concern about outgrowing the convention center, according to Natural Products’ show manager Amy Dageenakis

“We are doing everything we can to keep the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim,” Dageenakis said.

For now, area hoteliers are finding ways for groups like Natural Products to stay. 

When one company staged a product launch along with a big meeting, the Hilton, Marriott and nearby Hyatt Regency Orange County converted some guest rooms into meeting rooms for breakout sessions. 

“That’s how we’re addressing the meeting space need for now,” Logsdon said. “Until the convention center expansion is complete, we’re looking at business that fits into what we have.” 

There are other factors that continue to make Anaheim and OC attractive to meetings and conventions. One is cost. In a recent survey of planners by Meeting News, 76% of respondents said rising costs and budget pressure were their most challenging concerns for 2008. 

The average daily rate at Anaheim area hotels through November last year was $122 compared to $123 in Los Angeles, $140.50 in San Diego and $150 in San Francisco, according to Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research. 

Anaheim ranked No. 47 in average daily cost among the largest 100 business markets in the most recent Business Travel News corporate travel index. Anaheim came in at $302.90 per day for hotel, car rental and food. San Francisco ranked No. 9 at $386.92 per day, Los Angeles was No. 15 at $359.71, San Diego was No. 26 at $332.90 and Phoenix was No. 41 at $314.29. Las Vegas ranked a few pennies below Anaheim at No. 48, with daily costs of $302.82.

Anaheim’s proximity to John Wayne, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Ontario airports also is a plus for meeting planners frustrated by meeting interruptions resulting from delayed flights at some of the nation’s busiest airports. 
Hotels in Works

The next wave of new hotels in the Anaheim Resort District also is on the horizon, though only one is scheduled to open this year: the 288-room Sheraton in Garden Grove. If that hotel were open now, it would fall at No. 42 on the Business Journal list of OC’s largest meeting hotels, with 8,000 square feet of meeting space.

In 2009, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa will debut its 203-room addition along with 50 timeshare units.

A little further out are two hotels at GardenWalk under development by Orange-based Prospera Hotels and likely to be operated by the Walt Disney Co. Another two hotels by Newport Beach-based Tarsadia Hotels at the corner of Katella Avenue and Harbor Boulevard will replace the existing Jolly Roger Hotel and banquet space. No timeline is set for that project yet, a spokesperson said.

As these hotels open, they again will focus attention on the Anaheim and OC market and enable the convention hub to house more conventioneers close to the action. 

“We want (cities like) San Francisco and San Diego to be scratching their heads to figure out what they’ll do to get business back from us,” Logsdon said. 

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.

Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA
Also See: The Meetings and Convention Industry is Booming in Orange County (Anaheim Area) as Competition from Los Angeles and San Diego Intensifies / Sandi Cain / August 2007
Meeting, Exhibit Space Tightening at Anaheim Convention Center; Anaheim Currently Ranks No. 6 in the Nation in Trade Shows. Expansion on the Way? / January 2007


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