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Convention Centers Slowly Ramp Up
For New Construction Projects

Renee Diiulio
, Senior Editor
March 3, 2014

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Oceanside, CA – Five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, and convention centers are finally getting comfortable loosening their belts — if only by a notch. Seven centers have made new moves toward expansion, or the consideration of an expansion, and join those that are already a notch or two ahead.

According to Trade Show Executive’s Pardon Our Dust report, there are 18 convention centers in the U.S. and Canada with construction in progress, from new builds to expansions to renovations, compared to 12 at the same time in 2013. The next ribbon-cutting for a new facility will be in May, at the Bismarck Civic Center in North Dakota. The facility whose completion is farthest into the future is the Oklahoma City Convention Center, which is expected to open its new doors in 2019.

Over the next five years, it’s likely a few of the 32 centers considering expansion will get past the drawing boards. Some, such as San Francisco’s Moscone Center and the Miami Beach Convention Center, seem certain; others, such as the Albany Capital Center in New York and the American Royal Center/Kemper Arena in Kansas City, may still be struggling to move forward. 

Staying Trendy

Today’s architects and designers have a different directive than in the past. Having left the big box behind long ago, convention centers have become more flexible, efficient and sophisticated. Moving forward, they are looking to take those elements even further, becoming completely fluid, energy-efficient and cutting-edge in design, technology
offerings and additional amenities.

Walled windows, sophisticated coverings and notable architectural elements are becoming commonplace for exhibition halls. Outdoor plazas, nearby shopping and high-end dining — sometimes on site — allow attendees to network, relax and get a feel for the city, without leaving the campus.

Community comes into play, not only through infrastructure and design but also via charitable programs and ecoefforts. It’s not enough to recycle and turn off the lights. Audiences want to feel good about gathering — or at least not feel bad about the waste — and convention centers are finding they can actually save money through energy efficiency and innovative environmental initiatives.

Inside, movable elements (walls and seating), digital signage and lights that change in an instant, plus remote control capabilities, enable show organizers to maximize their use of a space and their own revenues, while the centers can enjoy the same benefits, accommodating multiple users in quick succession
or even at once.

Wi-Fi continues to be a top concern for show organizers. Exhibitors want improved Wi-Fi at reasonable rates, if not free; attendees expect it for free; and everyone wants it super fast. 

The challenge is keeping up with changing technology and trends. The investment required can be daunting, particularly during times of slow or uncertain revenue growth. According to the International Association of Convention Centers (AIPC), venues reported 6% to 7% revenue growth early in the decade but anticipated
slower growth (1%) for last year. 

Slow growth can create concerns for convention construction, but many cities will still be able to support expanded or improved space. Which ones? Read our next report in October for the latest status on convention center construction.