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Exhibitors want more spaces.

The Jacob Javits Convention Center may need to double its size to accommodate the biggest trade shows, but the promoters of smaller shows say they still need a decent site that will meet their needs. Javits won't make a firm commitment for their small shows, they say, and anyway, for some manufacturers' associations, the location is just too far away.

With the imminent closing of the 500,000 square-foot Coliseum, trade show exhibitors are scrambling to make other arrangements.

The need to service the mid-sized shows has been a problem acknowledged by the Giuliani administration. John Dyson, the former deputy mayor who still consults on special projects, attempted to get a commitment for 300,000 square feet of exhibition space into the Request For Proposals for the new Columbus circle development. But eventually, that requirement was dropped, as others argued it would impact the final price.

Still, a plan for this exhibition space was included in one proposal that did not make the short list. Now, only one of the remaining five proposals has an exhibition component, and that is as part of a convention hotel.

The Hudson River piers are rolling out a red carpet for shows, but in New York City, cache doesn't come from the Hudson unless you are in a tower and bragging about sunset views.

"Who really wants to go to 55th and Twelfth?," said Elyse Kroll president of ENK International, who promotes exhibition shows for the men's, women's and fashion markets and formerly used rooms in the quite different atmosphere of the Plaza Hotel.

"I took a really severe business risk by going to an out of the way location," she said of her decision recently to try the Piers. "There are no other locations. There is a serious lack of exhibition space in the city."

Kroll used to got cut rates on eight floors of rooms at The Plaza and have the beds removed to create individual booths "with their own bathroom and telephone." She took matters into her own hands now that hotel is undergoing a $50 million renovation and is getting filled with the booming tourist trade.

"I'm very popular in a recession, so as soon as business turns around they are not so eager to cater to me," she noted.

Instead, after intensive investigation, she moved her show to Piers 88, 90 and a portion of 92 because she believed "the pier had a better future and it had good bones." She also reports her exhibitors and their clients praised the decision as a way of avoiding long elevator waits.

While Kroll's members have found a safe harbor for the moment, Dick Jacobson, president of FFANY, the Fashion Footwear Association of New York, has members all over the world, but is facing different demands.

"The fact that we live here compounds the problem that we don't have Midtown convention space," he said.

His local members have created fabulous showrooms in two million square feet of prime Manhattan real estate and don't want to have the rest of the exhibitors housed in an out of the way location. They also don't want to re-create their own exhibits somewhere else.

"To tell them to move out of their beautiful showrooms would be like telling Sak's the week before Easter to join Macy's at the Armory," he said.

These manufacturers - like DKNY, Bally, Nine West and Charles Jourdan - have showrooms that each take up thousands of square feet m prominent locations like the Crown Building and Trump Tower.

They are paying top dollar for the best spaces, but Jacobson says they are now wondering if they should re-think their showroom marketing strategies - and if New York City is where they need to rent space. "You're talking big revenue if they have to close up," said Jacobson.

The Footwear shows were held on seven floors at the Plaza, but Jacobson was informed the hotel can no longer accommodate his December 1998 date or any December dates thereafter. And his international membership is tied to production schedules from orders received at the show, so they have voted three times not to change the dates.

The Javits? "Too far, and they won't commit to dates for smaller shows - if they get a million square foot show they bump you." The Piers? "No dates and it's too far." His exhibitors complain about the setup of the Hilton, while the Marriott Marquis is "too off center."

A spokesperson from the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau says that most shows of that size end up at a convention center, but they do have a convention services department that specializes in assisting meeting planners. They can send out bids for space, handle housing, caterers, florists and temporary help. A conference express will even help smaller groups that require 75 room nights or less. And a meeting planner's guide has listings and contact information and is free for the asking by calling (800) 693-7290.

Despite an apparent crunch, the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers recently announced it was closing its 25,000 square feet of exhibition space and converting it to a business conference center and smaller meeting rooms, as that is what was being requested by business groups.

"It isn't productive having 25,000 square feet that sits empty 80 percent of the time," said Paul O'Neil, president of the Sheraton New York.

Kroll explored the Downtown area hotels and even looked into renting vacant office buildings but found the narrow streets aren't compatible with the trucks needed to deliver and take away her groups' exhibits.

"I've got building codes and a lot of requirements before I can hold a show," she says, citing ceiling heights, freight elevators and load capacity as part of her checklist.

Currently, Jacobson has booked one of the Coliseum's last public events for the first week in December, but with that going out of commission, he is fearful of the future.

"For 50 years it was always run in the Coliseum," he recalled. "Then when [that was shut] we used the Hilton and the Javits, and we began to lose the shows."

In 1984, Jacobson said the shoe fair brought in more than 60,000 members of the Footwear industry to New York City.

"Now it's probably down to 15,000," he said. "They go to Vegas instead." That town now hosts the February and August Footwear markets.

Las Vegas has also taken a toll on the apparel mart. Kroll says she lost the leading menswear show to Las Vegas.

"There was a show in Las Vegas that went from regional to international, it didn't even go to national first," she complained. "It just grew because they mooed from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. And Las Vegas is all about conventions and it supports the convention trade."

Jacob J. Javits Convention Center spokesperson Mike Eisgrau counters, "That isn't the case anymore because there are a helluva lot of everybodies trying to get in here."

Kroll and Jacobson have met extensively with Giuliani administration personnel and commissioned a report from Arthur Anderson to show the revenue that would be generated by mid-sized exhibition space.

The report states that expenses generated outside the facility would bring in an additional $430 million a year, comprised in part by $102 million for hotel rooms, $151 for food and beverages and a take of $47 million to the city and state in additional tax revenues. The $430 million, says Jacobson, wouldn't even include other expenditures for booth decorators, trucking or the part-timers hired to work the show.

Jacobson also doesn't understand why the city doesn't come up with a Midtown location for exhibitions.

"Here they run the city and they don't run the conventions," he noted, pointing to both the Coliseum and Javits, which are MTA and State operated, respectively.

Still, one hope for his future is that a convention hotel gets the nod for the Coliseum site.

Millennium Partners has proposed a 1,000-room Westin Hotel that will devote a full floor of 125,000 square feet to large functions and meeting space. In addition, there is a glass-covered lobby and atrium that will have "significant amounts" of private rooms, exhibition space, and outdoor space that can be used for large groups, said Christopher Jeffries, one of the partners.

The third floor of what will become a Sony entertainment area "anticipates some crossover use" that can be used for SONY presentations and exhibitions and might be available for other groups.

And up the street is the Sony IMAX theater and other movie theaters, which may be available for functions such as group meetings.

"We are of the opinion that this is great for trade groups, it's a winner and great for the location," said Jeffries.

In San Francisco, Millennium Partners is developing the Yerba Buena entertainment - retail project next door to the Moscony Convention Center and Marriott Hotel and will incorporate similar elements to maintain meeting space. They are also working with Marriott there to develop additional ballroom space.

"One of our long-term goals is to make better daily use of the IMAX space and see how we can tie it into the Marriott," said Jeffries, who says they will also be exploring those kinds of options if they get the nod on the Coliseum development.

Jacobson is amenable to a new hotel with a built-in convention center that is close to his group's current showrooms, but worries the project won't get chosen or will be delayed.

O'Neil of the Sheraton is also chairman of the City's Convention and Visitor's Bureau and sits on the board of the Javits Center. He is skeptical that a hotel so far from "an expanded Javits" will make it in that location. "Maybe they know something I don't know," he said.

From the City's perspective, he said he'd rather see a convention hotel built near the Javits Center and is more gung-ho on the prospect of doubling the size of Javits so they can accommodate bigger shows or more at a time.

A problem for the small shows now, he admits, is that they often want the same dates as larger ones. For the state-run facility, the highest priority for bookings would be for large shows that bring in people from out-of-town who stay in hotel rooms and spend money on food.

Javits spokesperson Eisgrau said, "If we can accommodate and have the space, we certainly work with the show. That's our business, to rent space and clear dates."

The 760,000 square-foot Javits Center has several levels and is designed to fit in a few shows at a time.

The Javits Center now stretches from 34th Street to 39th Street from 11th Avenue to 12th Avenue. There are three levels for exhibit space, while the concourse level handles show registrations.

"We can accommodate up to six major shows at one time with an average daily attendance of 85,000 people," said Eisgrau. Although few shows are open to the public, the International Auto show brings in 1.1 million visitors in eight days out of the Javits total of 245 million visitors a year.

Its in-house caterer, Service American, has a 100,000 square foot kitchen capable of serving 10,000 meals.

This summer, HOK is working on renovations that include upgrading the meeting rooms and re-designing the fourth level 45,000 square-foot Galleria/River pavilion so it can be used for more special events, such as its capacity for holding 1,800 seated people for meals and "3,500 people auditorium style."

Costs at the Javits Center run $1.30 a square foot for its downstairs floors and $1.55 per square foot for levels three and four. "That is for an entire show, not per day," said Eisgrau, and provides for about an eight or nine-day "window," which consists of maybe three days of move in, two days of show and three days of move out.

The meeting space runs $200 to $1,400 a day, depending on the configurations, and for the bigger halls, like the special event hall, it could cost $15,500 per day.

"There are many variables when it comes to pricing," Eisgrau added.

As part of their contract, HOK hired Coopers & Lybrand for a market study. Along with doubling the size of the exhibition areas, the Coopers report advised expanding the current less than 28,000 square feet of meeting space to 250,000 square feet.

Javits officials talk about expanding north to 42nd Street and tying in with the Times Square redevelopment. That would mean swallowing up several other parcels along the way, including the Silverstein Properties "Yale" building, the Greyhound Bus garage and possibly the 1,800 residences in two-buildings being developed by Silverstein along 42nd Street that would include 360 low-income apartments.

"If you build it they will come," said Eisgrau of an expanded Javits. "There are 20 to 23 major shows in the United States that have avoided New York and which would consider coming to New York."
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Title Annotation:convention centers for trade show exhibitors
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 16, 1997
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