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Big Changes at Nation's
Biggest Convention Centers

Carri Jensen
, Manager of Directories

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
September 2, 2013



Oceanside, CA – There is rarely any turnover in the membership rolls of Trade Show Executive’s Millionaire’s Club and Mega Convention Centers, but a lot of changes are occurring inside and outside the walls of the nation’s largest convention centers.

There was a high level of activity in the past year at the facilities with more than 1 million square feet (sf) of prime exhibit space. The 10 venues that make up the Millionaire’s Club in the U.S. have been engaged in renovations, new green initiatives and/or new business models, including partnering with show organizers on new ventures.

And one convention center even got a new name: The Dallas Convention Center was christened the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, named after the Republican Senator who served for nearly 20 years. It is the first convention center in the nation to be named after a woman.

According to the 2013 edition of Trade Show Executive’s World’s Top Convention Centers (WTCC), the 10 U.S. Millionaire’s Club centers have a total of 14,670,838 sf of prime exhibit space — that’s 26% of the total floor space available in the U.S.

No surprise, McCormick Place in Chicago was once again the largest single center with 2,600,000 sf of prime space. In second place with 2,100,000 sf was the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando followed by the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) with 1,940,631 sf. The top 10 was rounded out by the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta; Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas; Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; Reliant Park in Houston, the International Exposition Center (I-X Center) in Cleveland, and the newly re-christened Hutchison Center in Dallas.

Canada’s branch of the Millionaire’s Club includes The Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, and across town, The Toronto Congress Centre. Both boast 1,000,000 sf of prime space. Mexico was led by the Expo Guadalajara with 753,200 sf of prime space.

Busy Millionaires

The Millionaire’s Club has not been resting on its laurels while the rest of the pack makes the changes needed to remain competitive and attractive to organizers of growing exhibitions. 

  • The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) this year announced the first major expansion of the LVCC in more than a decade. The additional floor space is part of a dramatic redevelopment of the entire area around the center into the Las Vegas Global Business District. “This is a transformative project,” said LVCVA President/CEO Rossi Ralenkotter. LVCVA envisions the Global Business District as turning the neighborhood around the LVCC into a convention campus, which will include indoor and outdoor gathering spots, restaurants and transportation access.
  • Planning continued in Orlando on a five-year $187 million capital improvement plan that includes a major overhaul of the convention center’s West Building.
  • In Houston, the green light was given to a plan to remodel the iconic Astrodome into the New Dome. The revitalized building will provide welcome indoor exhibit space for the Offshore Technology Conference and make the Reliant Park campus more attractive to mega-show organizers and major sporting events.
  • The reconfiguration and expansion of Exhibit Hall A at the Morial Convention Center earned an engineering-industry award for the project’s lead contractor. The project added 14,000 sf of space to the hall for use as a ballroom, now offering 60,000 sf, plus another 25,000 sf of pre-function space.
  • McCormick Place was turned over to private management and made the focal point of another convention-district redevelopment project. The center also racked-up some impressive gains in its sustainability program. McCormick Place reached Level One Certification for the ASTM International Standard pertaining to trade shows. It also committed to wind energy for 100% of its electricity needs. For SMG and Chicago, it boiled down to a simple matter of meeting customer demand for greener venues. “This recognition further enhances our competitive edge and will increase our ability to attract new events to Chicago,” said General Manager David Causton.
  • Sands Expo was another convention center that moved the green ball downfield. It launched the Sands ECO360 Meetings program, which includes an in-house environmental impact summary that summarizes the footprint of several events.
  • The Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), site of numerous Trade Show Executive Gold 100 and Fastest 50 trade shows, is partnering with some organizers in developing shows. For example, the GWCC agreed to contribute electrical, parking, food and internet services so that show organizer Clarion Events North America could create a flexible exhibitor package for its October launch of the Atlanta Foodservice Expo, said GWCC General Manager Mark Zimmerman. The GWCC also teamed up with home show organizer Turner Expositions to create Georgia’s Largest Home Show, which will launch September 5-7, 2014.

Moving Up in the World

Expansions were also underway or else remained in the planning phases in several cities where their convention centers are classified as Mega Convention Centers, meaning they offer between 350,000 and 999,999 sf of exhibit space.

San Diego, Miami Beach and Boston remained in the planning phases of new additions. Plans to add exhibit space in San Antonio were released this Summer and the Los Angeles Convention Center remained in line for a major facelift that will not only move it up in the WTCC rankings but may bolt an NFL football stadium onto the downtown campus.

Cobo Center in Detroit marked a milestone in September in its ambitious renovation, which is seen as a promising step in building the momentum of the Motor City’s comeback. The center officially dedicated a new ballroom, offering 40,000 sf of space and glasswall views of the Detroit River.

Boston and Houston took steps in 2013 to add new convention center hotels. Philadelphia cut the ribbon in August on a 248-room Home2Suites hotel kitty-corner from the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

In Salt Lake City, the growth of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market has city leaders facing a dire need to recruit a hotel developer to build a headquarter hotel, and in general, add to the room inventory for the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center.

The ongoing projects might not expand the ranks of TSE’s Millionaire’s Club in the near future, but the upgrades to convention centers of all sizes will enhance the experience and value of trade shows for organizers, exhibitors and attendees.