|By Marla Matzer Rose, The Columbus
Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 14, 2009--An array of lush plants and floral decorations make the Greater Columbus Convention Center a beautiful place during the annual floral convention that has called the city home for decades.
Just as attractive to convention officials, though, are the full restaurants and parking lots that the national OFA gathering brings, thanks to its approximately 10,000 attendees.
Experience Columbus estimates that the OFA, a Columbus-based organization that was originally called the Ohio Florists Association, brings an economic impact of nearly $10 million to Columbus each year. The number of convention-center workers nearly doubles from 250 to 470 during the four-day event, which focuses on continuing education for floriculture professionals and is not open to the public. It concludes today.
"We open up every single food and beverage point of sale at the center for the convention," said Craig Liston, general manager of the convention center. "I went out for a late lunch around 1:30, and it was hard to get a table at anyplace right near the convention center."
The event is the largest annual convention in Columbus. It ranks third in yearly attendance in Columbus behind only the All-American Quarter Horse Congress and the Arnold Classic and Sports Festival, which are not true conventions.
It's the only convention that takes place each year in Columbus that ranks in the top 200 nationally by attendance.
It originated at Ohio State University in 1930 and moved to the convention center in 1981. Except for a few years in the 1990s when the event went to Cincinnati, it's been in Columbus. The group has a contract with Columbus for four more years, through 2013.
This year's confab has been more on the minds of local leaders, who realize this run could be ending. The OFA has made it known that, after years of being courted by Indianapolis and in the face of ongoing frustration with a lack of hotel rooms in Columbus, it might choose to move its convention there starting in 2014.
"The hotel situation is the main concern," said Jim Broderick, interim chief executive of OFA and a Westerville resident. "Every year, I've heard from attendees about the hotels. Everyone wants to be at the Hyatt (connected to the convention center) or the Hampton (directly across the street). We have a lottery system for those hotels, and it's just not possible to make everyone happy."
Because attendees are spread among a number of Downtown-area hotels, the OFA pays $18,000 each year to run shuttles to the convention center. That makes a city such as Indianapolis, which has more than 3,000 hotel rooms attached to the convention center, even more attractive.
The hotel situation in Columbus could change, however. In March, plans were announced for a publicly financed hotel across from the convention center that would open in December 2012.
That was just days after the sudden death of John Holmes, OFA's chief executive, at age 45. He had been a vocal champion of building the hotel to retain groups such as his.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction. I just wish it would've happened before John passed away," Broderick said.
On Saturday evening, Experience Columbus co-hosted a reception at the convention center for about 120 of the OFA's brass. In attendance were key local tourism-industry officials, along with OSU President E. Gordon Gee, Mayor Michael B. Coleman and county Commissioners Paula Brooks and John O'Grady.
"It was nice to hear them talk about how much they appreciate the dedication of the community to their organization," said Paul Astleford, chief executive of Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors bureau. "We do feel -- and we hope -- there's a level of loyalty to Columbus."
Broderick said OFA board members were "quite impressed" with the turnout Saturday, but they might take until the end of the year to decide whether to keep the convention in Columbus after 2013.
--What it is: Formerly the Ohio Florist Association, the group is the leading floriculture-education association in the United States
--Membership: 3,350; 23 percent are in Ohio
--Attendance at 2009 convention: About 10,000
--Estimated convention economic impact: Nearly $10 million
Sources: OFA, Experience Columbus
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