Meeting Space in Abundance

By Lain Ehmann

Planners for smaller meetings might overlook municipal convention centers, believing their group is too small to even consider such a huge venue. According to a recent study by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, however, there is a glut of convention center space around the country. The overabundance of meeting space can mean good news for sales meeting planners; many centers are looking to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, including smaller groups.

The Brookings study states convention space has increased more than 50% since 1990 and cities are spending additional money on amenities such as publicly financed hotels, deep discounts and the like. The hope is by luring meetings, conferences and conventions to their cities, municipalities will benefit from the economic boost provided by hundreds or thousands of attendees’ wining and dining dollars.

But with attendance at larger tradeshows waning, convention centers have to look at other sources of revenue, such as smaller groups. For meeting planners this means the possibility of low-cost meeting space.

Cheryl Hanley, director of the banquet and conference center for the International-Exposition (I-X) Center in Cleveland, OH, says that even the immense I-X Center is interested in creating relationships with smaller groups. Though the I-X Center, with more than 1 million square feet of space, is one of the largest convention centers in the world, it still has function rooms appropriate for groups as small as a few dozen people. “We’re really very flexible,” she says, noting that working with smaller groups is a way for the I-X Center to weather the slower seasons.

Many other venues also are interested in smaller groups. For example, the 1.1-million-square-foot Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, has hosted groups ranging in size from 30 to more than 100,000, says director of public relations Danielle Courtenay. Not every convention center wants to work with meetings with hundreds instead of thousands of attendees, however. To hold your event at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, you must book a minimum of 3,000 hotel room nights, says communications manager Naina Ayya. “Smaller meetings aren’t really appropriate for Moscone,” she says.

Finding a convention center that will work with your smaller group might be worth the hunt. In addition to offering top-notch facilities at reasonable rates, convention centers are appealing because they’re often centrally located, easy to find and offer plenty of parking, notes the I-X Center’s Hanley. “A lot of times the location is very important,” she says.

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