Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Conventions and Indiana Convention Center and CEDIA Expo

CEDIA delaying comeback to convention center

July 30, 2007

One of the two massive trade shows forced to leave Indianapolis because of a convention center space crunch is not coming back as soon as expected.

Locally based Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association is changing course three years after agreeing to return its fall CEDIA Expo to Indianapolis for four years beginning in September 2010--the same month the Indiana Convention Center expansion is scheduled to be complete.

That tight turnaround made association leaders nervous about making a firm commitment for 2010, and the show's growth since moving to Denver means even the larger convention center won't be able to accommodate it in 2011.

Association Executive Director Don Gilpin was in Australia and unavailable for an IBJ interview. However, he said in an e-mail that the Expo will need about 900,000 square feet of space this fall and 1 million by 2009.

After the expansion, the Indiana Convention Center will have 747,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus another 188,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space and 267,800 square feet of so-called "pre-function" space.

Still, there's hope for Indianapolis in 2012 and beyond, thanks to a shift in CEDIA's trade show strategy.

Association leaders this month said CEDIA's Spring Expo will debut in 2008, a move they hope will ease the strain on the fall show, which has about 70 exhibitors on a waiting list. Trade shows can be too large, they said, and make it difficult for exhibitors and attendees to connect.

"Feedback from CEDIA members indicates that there is strong support for a second show," association board President Ken Smith said in announcing the change. He did not return a call from IBJ.

Indianapolis could host the Spring Expo as soon as 2010, since the new show is expected to fit into the existing convention center. And if it succeeds in making the fall Expo more manageable, Indianapolis would be in the running for that, too.

"We consider CEDIA to be an incredible partner," said Bob Bedell, CEO of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association. "For them to have developed this strategy for their shows that could allow Indianapolis to be part of their future--it's very exciting to us."

CEDIA isn't sharing any attendance projections for the Spring Expo--saying only that it's likely to be a "significant size" by 2010--but Bedell wouldn't be surprised if the new show debuts as one of the city's top 20 events.

Even so, the loss of the CEDIA Expo in 2010 and 2011 is a big blow. The show brought 560 exhibitors and 26,000 attendees to Indianapolis when it was here in 2005. ICVA estimated that Expo visitors spent $27.4 million, making it the third-largest event in the city that year.

CEDIA's decision to leave Indianapolis, in fact, helped make the case for the $275 million convention center expansion. And its promise to return was touted as proof that customers were eager for more space.

That's true even if the fall Expo doesn't come back, said Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell.

The convention center expansion "wasn't just for CEDIA," he said. Rather, "it represented what the entire market was telling us: If we build it, they will come."

Downtown hotelier Dale McCarty agreed.

"It's one group," said McCarty, general manager of the Westin Indianapolis and a member of the Greater Indianapolis Hotel & Lodging Association's board. "There are lots of other groups similar to that."

And not all conventions have to be huge, he said. After the expansion, the convention center will be able to accommodate several smaller groups at the same time.

"That gives us a lot more flexibility," he said.

Still, there's something to be said for tens of thousands of out-of-towners converging for a single event. Take Performance Racing Industry, for example.

PRI's December motorsports trade show attracted 40,000 attendees who spent an estimated $26.7 million here in 2004. The Laguna Beach, Calif.-based organization is another possible yo-yo customer. It moved the show to Orlando in 2005, but said it would come back for four years beginning in 2010.

The show grew to about 45,000 attendees in 2006, spokesman Pete Evanow said, and is expecting closer to 50,000 for its 20th anniversary this year. Space remains a concern--it's up to about 1 million square feet of exhibit space and has room to grow in Orlando.

PRI officials are visiting Indianapolis next month to discuss how the growing show could fit into the expanded convention center. Despite the tight quarters, Indianapolis appeals to exhibitors and attendees alike because of its status in the motorsports industry.

"Do we like Orlando? Yes," Evanow said. "Do we like Indianapolis? Hell, yes."

ICVA leaders are hopeful both PRI and CEDIA will return, given their long-standing commitments to the city. Still, they know nothing is guaranteed.

"Could we lose them? We're always cautious when a customer goes out and samples another product," said spokesman Bob Schultz. "But we have a very strong relationship with them and we have every reason to believe they want to return to Indianapolis."

PRI has until June to make a final decision on its 2010 show. CEDIA's growth allowed it to rethink 2010 and 2011 about a year ahead of schedule; future sites won't be determined until after the inaugural Spring Expo in April.

In his e-mail, Gilpin was upbeat about Indianapolis' chances.

"Indianapolis played an important role in the growth of CEDIA Expo," he wrote, "and CEDIA leadership is grateful for our continuing partnership."

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