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Javits is Jumping in First Full Year Since Unprecedented Overhaul

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
January 16, 2015
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New York, NY – The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has completed its first full year since the completion of a stem-to-stern renovation, and 2015 is shaping up to be a banner year for the Manhattan landmark.

The $465 million overhaul was wrapped up in 2013 after five whirlwind years of activity that resulted in a nearly brand new convention center for meeting planners and trade show organizers who may want to take a second bite of the Big Apple.

“Our biggest opportunity now is getting everyone to recognize what has been done here,” said Alan Steel, president and CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation. Steel told Trade Show Executive (TSE) that the mandate for expansion had been to “reinvent the building,” which ranged from the aesthetics to the technological backbone and the addition of 110,000 square feet (sf) of space, which increased the building’s total prime exhibit space to 840,000 sf. When the dust settled, Javits Center had moved up to 13th place in the TSE World’s Top Convention Center rankings, tied with the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL.

Show Time

The added space is being put to good use by show managers whose events have caught the wave of the economic recovery and have notched impressive growth in attendance and exhibit space. Three TSE Gold 100 shows experienced record results. RECon, the show organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers in December, posted a 26% jump in attendance at its Annual New York Deal Making Conference; it was the first time the event had been held at Javits.

The 2015 American International Toy Fair sold a record 419,000 net square feet of space before the end of 2014. After moving to Washington for two years to avoid the renovation work at Javits, the Summer Fancy Food Show hosted a record 2,730 exhibitors in its return to New York.

“Our exhibitors and attendees experienced their best show ever in June of 2014 as a result of Alan Steel’s efforts, along with his world-class staff,” said Bill Lynch, chief operations officer for the Fancy Food Shows, told TSE. “There was a renewed energy in the building and many of our key customers commented about the improved look and feel of the building.”

Britton Jones, president and CEO of Business Journals, Inc., said he also noticed an upbeat vibe among staff and customers. “It’s like working in a new building,” he said. “The building has developed a proactive environment. Alan and his team are at the top of their game.”

Steel said the upgrades and repairs had eliminated nagging problems and had Javits running smoothly consistently. “We have been good at putting out fires, and now we are more focused on preventing fires,” he said.

In the fiscal year ended March 2014, the Javits Center had slashed its operating loss in half from the previous fiscal year as it emerged from its extended renovations period. The Javits Center is not subsidized by New York taxpayers.

The building is one of the busiest in the nation. Steel said that even with construction going on inside, there were 190 events on the books last year. In 2013, Javits hosted five TSE Gold 100 shows, plus the uninvited Superstorm Sandy, which inundated the ground level. Steel said occupancy ran around 70%. “And that was during the renovations,” he said.

Jumping Into the 21st Century

There were, however, issues caused by age and normal wear-and-tear that made it necessary for New York to move forward with the renovations and upgrades. The job involved new roofing, the replacement of scores of leaky, outdated windows, tearing up and replacing the floors, and rewiring the building for top-tier Internet and WiFi access.

“We recognized early on that we had to become a state-of-the-art building, something we had not been before,” Steel said.

Javits Center’s WiFi network now boasts 700 access points that can accommodate around 70,000 users. The system was designed with input from a customer advisory board and includes ample redundancy, load balancing and a guaranteed power supply.

The look of the building is also different. The “green” roof is nearly seven acres of plants, and the 6,000 new windows have given it what Steel called a “Frank Lloyd Wright feel.” The New York Times saluted the Javits overhaul in a recent editorial, and the Audubon Society presented Javits an award because so many fewer unsuspecting birds go crashing into the reflecting glass windows.

Far Fewer Kinks

Show organizers told TSE that staging an event at Javits still presented some challenges. Unions are still entrenched and will likely remain so given the busy schedule. There is also the city’s harrowing traffic, which can bog down shuttle buses on their runs to distant hotels.

There is light on the horizon, however. Hotel development in the neighborhood is proceeding and a new subway station, set to open soon, will make commuting easier for both Javits’ staff and visitors. “This will resolve one of the biggest hassles for attendees — leaving the center late in the afternoon,” said Jones.

Javits Center will likely not be expanded any time soon, but Steel said the types of meetings and exhibitions that are drawn to New York — retail, medical, financial, for example — generally don’t require the same space as, for example, a major heavy equipment show.

But the stage is clearly set for a new push to woo show organizers who may not have considered New York in the past. “Now we can deal with some of the business that we had not been able to before,” Steel said while looking ahead to another busy and bustling year at Javits Center.

Reach Alan Steel at (212) 216-2000 or asteel@javitscenter.com; Bill Lynch at (646) 878-0131 or blynch@specialtyfood.com; Britton Jones at (203) 663-7837 or brittonj@busjour.com

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