Bigger convention center booked up - East Valley Tribune: Business

Bigger convention center booked up

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Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 12:48 am | Updated: 10:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The $600 million Phoenix Convention Center expansion is roaring to its planned December completion. And that's fortunate, since the place has been booked for some really big conventions starting in January.

The National Rifle Association - so far, the biggest group signed on - is coming in May, 2009 with an estimated 60,000 delegates, Green said. That's compared with conventions that averaged 2,600 delegates from 2001 through 2005, Green said.

And in February the new complex will bask in the national spotlight when it hosts the NBA All-Star Jam, an interactive game and entertainment center - think NFL Experience with a pro basketball focus.

"We envision a tremendous turnout for that, the first major event to showcase the (venue)," Green said.

The convention center is 900,000 square feet big, three times the size of its puny predecessor, Phoenix Civic Plaza. And that has attracted lots of meetings with 10,000 or more visitors, much larger than the old digs could handle, said Scott Dunn, of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"We've already got 340,000 room nights booked for 2009," Dunn said. "Our previous record for a year was 212,000."

And that's all good news for East Valley tourism leaders, despite the downtown Phoenix venue and the 1,000-room Sheraton under construction next door to handle the massive crowds of conventioneers.

Groups as big as the National Rifle Association will spread out in hotels throughout the Valley, said Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau. And even the smaller groups will fill up downtown Phoenix hotels and push other would-be business or leisure visitors out to Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, he said. "If you have a convention of 10,000 to 15,000 people, they just can't handle it downtown," Brinton said.

Most important, the big conventions that have been bypassing the Valley because it didn't have sufficient meeting space will give the metro area a nod because of the expanded facilities.

"We really need this," he said. "Everybody worried when the (950-room) JW Marriott and (750-room) Westin Kierland resorts opened (in northeast Phoenix). But they didn't cannibalize from other hotels. They created their own demand."

Brinton said the convention center and the new Phoenix hotel will do the same.

And conventioneers who come to an event in the Valley and like it, may stage other events in Scottsdale, or come back with the family for a vacation, said Rachel Sacco, president of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

[CORRECTION: This story mistakenly originally said that the convention center was booked solid for 2009 and 2010.]

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