Exhibition and trade show planners are praising Washington's new Convention Center for its spacious exhibit halls and its nation's capital location, but promoters are also complaining that the center's food is terrible and its parking facilities are inadequate.
"It's a super building, a promoter's dream come true," said Gloria Rothstein, whose firm is staging three antique shows and a gem and mineral show at the center this year. Rothstein said she chose the D.C. Convention Center because it offered "a beautiful building located in the middle of a large population with a high income."
"It's about time they built one in the nation's capital that could compare with the other buildings around the country," said James Larivee, president of the promotional firm that staged January's "World of Wheels."
"It's better than anything I know of now operating on the East Coast," said David Jacobson, show manager for Gutenberg International, which is planning to hold the nation's largest exhibition of printing equipment at the convention center in October.
Show promoters generally heaped praise on Washington's entry into the convention center market, using words like "impressive" and "well-designed" to describe the building itself. But event organizers were much less enthusiastic about the center's food service, which they called "lousy," "rotten" and "awful."
"They promised us Greek salad with feta cheese, but when the food came we got hot dogs," said Ann McNutt, who helped organize a fashion show and hair care and make-up exhibition for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union at the center in February.
"I paid $6 for two hot dogs and two Cokes and I couldn't even eat them," said McNutt. "They were atrocious."
"The food service was rotten, it was just a joke," said Scotti Korp of Travelfest '83, a vacation show held in the center in February.
Some promoters complained that they were informed they must either use the convention center's food service, or pay a fee if they brought in their own food.
"To be told you have to use a certain food service that charges outrageous prices is a little hard to swallow," said Michael Webster of Great American Media, organizers of a motorcycle show held in March.
Parking was another sore spot for the show promoters. "The parking situation is absolutely terrible," said Phyllis Salak, coordinator of an antique fair in March.
Salak said there aren't enough parking lots to accommodate all the cars that are drawn into the area when two or three shows are running simultaneously. She also complained that some of the surrounding parking lots don't stay open 24 hours and others could not accommodate the large trucks and vans that many antique exhibitors drive.
"The absence of internal public parking is a serious flaw," said Teresa Rogers, an organizer of the Washington Hi-Fi Stereo and Video Show in February.
Promoters described the convention center neighborhood as "intimidating," "dismal" and "the pits." "I'm afraid of what the area would be like after dark," said UFCW organizer McNutt.
But most promoters agreed that the convention center neighborhood was bound to improve as the center itself becomes more popular and large-scale redevlopment begins.
Show promoters also praised the center for its security force, accessible loading docks, and proximity to the Metro Center subway station. Overall, event planners were optimistic about the convention center's future, and many were willing to chalk up the center's problems with food and parking to growing pains.