Convention and city officials are reviewing their options for expanding the four-year-old Washington Convention Center, which is too small for large conventions and will need to be enlarged in the early 1990s, according to a consultant's report
"There's no question about it. We ned a bigger Convention Center," said Austin G. Kenny, executive vice president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association.
A committee made up of members of the Convention Center's board of directors has been formed to analyze the options for enlarging the $110 million center, according to the center's general mamanger, George W. Demarest Jr. "At this point, it's a very tentative study," he said.
"It has been decided it is needed," said Curtis McClinton Jr., deputy mayor for economic development. "It's a high priority, and the mayor is awaiting a thorough analysis."
Most of the East Coast convention centers that couple with Washington's have increased their exhibit space or are in the process of doing so, leaving the Washington lagging in the competition for group business, according to industry experts.
Similarly, both San Francisco and New Orleans are in the process of nearly doubling he exhibit space in their convention centers. San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center is about the same size as Washington's.
Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center, which last year added 300,000 square feet of exhibit space to bring its total to more than 1 million square feet, already is considering its next expansion, according to its director, Dan Graveline.
"It's a matter of supply and demand," said Gravelne. Convention and trade shows are growing dramatically in size as exhibitors realize tha cost of inviting large numbers of buyers to a single show is much less than taking products to people one at a time, he said.
"Bookings in the Convention Center peaked last year," said Kevin Lawler of GA Partners Inc., the private consulting firm that recently prepared a report on the Convention Center. "There will be a minor downturn for the next five years and then things will restabilize. The market is growing much faster than anyone anticipated.
"The question for Washington is how to accomplish it. . . There's the unhappy memory of how difficult it was to build the present center . It's going to take a great deal of leadership," Lawler said.
Convention and city officials declined to talk about specific recommendations of the report.
Questions that will have to be answered before a new conventon center can be built include where to build and how to finance the project, how to fit it into the District's capital budget and what road improvements would be needed.
"As an individual, I would recommend that we look at expanding to maintain out competitive position," said Demarest."We're not losing business. . . but we want to be able to accomodate several groups at the same time."
"Obviously, with the number of hotel rooms we have, we can handle larger trade shows," said Dick Nelson, president of the Hotel Association of Washington and regional vice president of Hyatt Hotel scheduled for completion next summer near the Convention Center.
However, Nelson cited a radiology convention and soft drink association trade show that have had to cancel plans to use the Washington Convention Center in the next few years because the groups have grown too large for the facility's exhibit space.
"The Convention Center must be expanded," said Bill Edwards, general manager of the Washington Hilton. "Otherwise the other groups the city needs won't come."
But some industry experts say that even if Washington does expand its Convention Center, the competition will not ease.
"A lot of cities see expanding their convention center as the way to attract more business," said Mark Orlinsky, a research analyst with Laventhol & Horwath, a hotel and real estate consulting firm. "But with so many cities expanding, there's going to be even greater competition."