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Convention Center an Attraction in Itself

Putting Their Best Feet Forward: While Las Vegas grabs an increasing share of convention and trade show dollars, other cities aren't standing still. A look at what several of them are doing to attract business.

September 23, 2003|Robert Cross Chicago Tribune

City officials here are proud of their newly expanded and renovated Convention Center. It has just over 1 million square feet of exhibition space, and Hall F is the largest column-free exhibition space in the United States at 203,000 square feet.

"It's so large that you could park six American Airlines 777s -- largest in the fleet -- inside the room without touching each other or any wall," said Greg Elam, senior vice president of communications at the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Two massive arches hold the hall's roof in place.

"Ultimately, they'll be part of the symbol of downtown," Elam said. "The arches are 14 stories above the ground. They'll be lit at night."

Elam expects that most people gaping at the spectacle will be business travelers.

"Dallas is very much a corporate city. Business travel is a primary market, not an incidental market, for us," he said. "It's been a real challenge to us to overcome the effects of 9/11."

Last year, Dallas had a 0.7% increase in visitors over 2001, which kept visitations around the 12 million mark.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau takes a pragmatic approach to attracting visitors. Its Web site enables individuals and meeting planners to book hotels directly and receive special rates. Promotions on TV, in print, radio and the Internet target other parts of Texas and surrounding states to attract those who might be unwilling to fly. A new staff position is dedicated to going after meetings of 1,000 people or less.

"People who bring in X amount of business get certain benefits, like complimentary continental breakfast with meetings, parking permits or an adjusted rate for exhibit halls," Elam said. The bureau touts the city's attractions and entertainment ("more restaurants per capita than New York City"), and the bookings already in for 2005-07 look encouraging, Elam said. "But 2004 is an off-year in the cycle.

"We're taking baby steps," he said, "as opposed to giant steps."

-- Robert Cross

Chicago Tribune

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