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Florida sun is shining on PRI trade show: Growth could jeopardize event's return in 2010

October 17, 2005

The sun is rising on a new era for the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show-in Orlando.

Formerly one of Indianapolis' three biggest trade shows, PRI is now growing great guns in the Sunshine State. With 700-plus more booths sold this year over 2004, its last year here, and an additional 250 exhibitors added to the show's 2005 lineup, the grass in Orlando-and PRI's bank account-appears quite a bit greener.

"We knew there was pent-up demand, but we didn't think there would be this much more demand," said PRI spokesman Pete Evanow. "The fact that we've moved the show to Orlando has turned out to be a nice benefit. We've been pleasantly surprised."

PRI thought moving from Indianapolis' central location to the nation's southeast corner might hurt attendance.

"Apparently, the weather there in December has turned out to be a real bonus," Evanow said.

In addition to its warm climate and vacation attractions, Orlando also offers more than double the 400,000 square feet currently available at the Indiana Convention Center. The roomier confines can easily accommodate the 3,900 booths and 1,400 exhibitors for the show, which is expected to draw more than 40,000 race promoters, team owners and racing industry manufacturers when it meets Dec. 1-3.

The event's new love affair with Orlando serves as a bitter reminder why the city must tear down the RCA Dome and expand the Indiana Convention Center if it's to retain major events such as PRI.

Last October, PRI event organizers signed an agreement to come back to Indianapolis in 2010 if the $275 million convention center expansion gets done. With the earth churning on the city's new football stadium, the destruction of the RCA Dome and resulting 275,000-square-foot convention center expansion should be on schedule.

But there's no guarantee PRI will return.

"We have a written agreement, not a contractual agreement," said Bob Schultz, communications director for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitor's Association. "This show is certainly one of the poster children for why we need to get this [convention center] expansion done."

PRI is not an isolated phenomenon. The Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association trade show, which attracts more than 25,000 visitors, had its last meeting here this fall and will convene in Denver next year because the local convention center ran out of room. CEDIA officials also promised to come back in 2010 if the expansion gets done, but ICVA officials expect Denver to fight to keep it.

Schultz said the PRI scenario "is an incredible risk for the city."

"You don't want your best shows out there sampling other cities," Schultz said. "You work very hard to attract and retain shows like PRI, and this jeopardizes that. You don't just let a show like PRI go and say, 'We'll see you in 2010.'"

Evanow said Indianapolis remains a potential home for the PRI show but added, "We have to listen to our constituents."

Recent data indicates the PRI show had the third-largest payload of any trade show in Indianapolis, with its 40,000 visitors and $38 million economic impact.

PRI officials have not forgotten the role Indianapolis played in helping grow the show, said Steve Lewis, the event's producer. When it began its seven-year run in Indianapolis, the 1,500-booth show drew only a fraction of the audience and had an economic impact of $18 million.

The growth of the show in Orlando is now central in PRI officials' minds, said hospitality consultant Rob Hunden, vice president of Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting.

"For a relatively mature show to have near 25-percent growth in one year, that's huge," said Hunden, who formerly worked for the Indianapolis Bond Bank managing projects that included a previous convention center expansion and RCA Dome renovation. "That's big enough growth that it could really open [PRI officials'] eyes to where they wouldn't come back."

Lewis said PRI exhibitors have been asking for more space for three years, and his organization let local convention organizers know that.

But Hunden said cities like Indianapolis have to walk a supply-demand tightrope.

"Building and expanding convention centers is a serious investment," Hunden said.
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