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Smaller Centers Display Strength in Numbers

Sandi Cain
, News Editor
November 1, 2014



Oceanside, CA - North American venues with between 50,000 and 124,999 square feet (sf) of prime exhibit space are abundant throughout North America with 176 centers falling within this Tier IV designation this year. These include 143 in the U.S., 24 in Mexico and nine in Canada. In all, these 176 centers represent 56% of all North American convention centers with at least 50,000 sf of prime exhibit space, according to Trade Show Executive’s World’s Top Convention Centers (WTCC) published in June.

The total sf of prime exhibit space at these venues is 14,010,717 sf, up just 1% from 13,933,713 sf last year. The average (mean) sf of these venues, however, is down (1.0)% to 79,606 sf compared to 80,079 sf a year ago.

It’s no surprise that convention centers change from year to year, with some expanding, some contracting and some remodeling to better meet the customer needs.

This year, existing centers making their debut on the list of North American venues with less than 125,000 sf of prime exhibit space are:

No. 27 Dayton Airport Expo Center in Vandalia, OH with 100,000 sf of prime exhibit space and Anaheim’s Disneyland Hotel at No. 74, whose exhibition facilities were the only game in town back in the early 1970s but now offer 79,000 sf. In addition, the Tucson Expo Center in Tucson, AZ debuts at No. 87 with 72,227 sf, the McAllen Convention Center in McAllen, TX takes its bow with 60,818 sf of space at No. 109, and Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, CA appears as No. 117 on the list with 58,300 sf.

Baja California Center is a new venue in Tijuana, which opened in 2013 after the publication of the WTCC and now ranks second  among Mexico’s 24 Tier IV centers with 100,104 sf. An existing Mexican venue, the Cibeles Convention Center & Social Events in Juarez, which offers 54,896 sf of prime exhibit space, was also added to the list. It ranks No. 19 among Mexico’s Tier IV venues.

Two convention centers on this list last year have moved into higher tiers due to expansions. These include the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, WI, which expanded to 390,000 sf of prime space this year and Québec City Convention Centre in Canada, which now has 134,500 sf of space.

Meanwhile, the Dakotas were booming with expansions that give the region more available space. The Bismarck Event Center (formerly the Bismarck Civic Center), doubled its prime space to 100,000 sf after a major makeover. Meanwhile, the former Sioux Falls Convention Center, now called the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, added 30,000 sf of prime space to bump its total to 80,400 sf at that South Dakota venue.

All of this points to a continued strong demand for venues both small and large as venue managers find creative ways to partner with organizers and others to fill their available space. Smaller convention centers typically fill space with statewide meetings, regional trade shows, corporate events and local events. A strengthened economy has boosted their ability to draw more business from both traditional sectors as well as some new ones.

At the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) in Duluth, MN, Director of Sales Sue Ellen Moore said that a typical conference there can serve anywhere from 200 to 8,000 people. “A group that really thrives here will be interested in a quality facility, great service and the ability to offer a greener meeting,” she said.

As the No. 1 facility among the Tier IV convention centers with 120,000 sf of prime exhibit space, the DECC has focused on an expanded environmental program and assistance for those uncertain about specific tech needs to help land business 

“We are taking incremental, high-impact steps to reduce energy use, reuse products and food and recycle much of the waste throughout our facility,” Moore said. She noted they are simple efforts that resonate with guests and the community. 

While many smaller venues turn to consumer shows and partner with organizers to negotiate multi-year deals for their facilities, there also are other ways to fill these Tier IV centers.

Moore noted that convention cities in Minnesota work together as part of an effort to lure national business to the state. “We’re part of a ‘Meet in Minnesota’ initiative with Explore Minnesota Tourism,” she said. “Our hope is that if you come to one wonderful area of Minnesota, on your next Midwest rotation you will want to return to another (part of the state).”