The $211 million DeVos Place convention center opened its doors in December, encompassing a total area of 1 million square feet in the heart of Grand Rapids, Mich. The 162,000-square-foot exhibition hall is the size of three football fields, making it the second-largest convention facility in Michigan. The center's 40,000-square-foot ballroom, which is scheduled to be complete in early 2005, will seat 3,250 people for banquets. www.visitgrandrapids.org

Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., celebrated its grand opening in January. The two-level center is sited on 19 acres three miles from Palm Beach International Airport. Meeting space includes a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, and 23,000 square feet of flexible breakout space, divisible into 23 rooms. www.palmbeachfl.com

Construction began in December on an expansion of the Ocean Center Convention and Entertainment Complex in Daytona Beach, Fla. The $50 million project will add 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom. Completion of the project, which will triple the size of the center, is set for January 2006.www.oceancenter.com

The opening of the new $122 million Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center in Tacoma, Wash., is slated for November.The convention center, in the heart of downtown, will have 76,000 square feet of meeting space; a 51,500-square-foot main exhibit hall with contiguous, column-free space; a 13,650-square-foot ballroom; 11,200 square feet of meeting space/breakout rooms; and pre-function areas with views of Mount Rainier and Commencement Bay. The center will be nearly five times as large as the 14,336-square-foot Bicentennial Pavilion, a block away, which will continue to serve small convention groups until the new center opens; it will then be renovated to provide an auxiliary meeting space. Also under construction is a new Courtyard by Marriott, directly across from the new center. The $12 million hotel will have 152 guest rooms and suites and 7,000 square feet of meeting space.www.traveltacoma.com

In Hampton, Va., the Hampton Roads Convention Center is under construction and set to open in January. The sprawling complex will feature a total of 344,000 square feet of convention and exhibit space, 35 meeting rooms with capacity for 14,000 delegates, a 108,000-square-foot exhibit hall with oversized freight-loading doors, and a grand ballroom with banquet seating for more than 2,000 attendees. Connected to the center by a covered walkway, a John Q. Hammons Embassy Suites Hotel is also scheduled to open in 2005. With more than 300 suites, the hotel will bring the number of hotel rooms near the convention center campus to 2,099.www.hamptoncvb.com

After more than two years of construction, the newly expanded Oregon Convention Center in Portland is open. The facility has doubled in size, making it the largest in the Pacific Northwest, with 255,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, two ballrooms, and 50 meeting rooms on an 18-acre campus in the heart of Portland. As befits its Northwest setting, the expansion was built with environmental concerns foremost in mind. Eighty-five percent of construction waste was recycled, and more than a quarter of all building materials are made from recycled material. The expansion's “cool roof” minimizes heat, and runoff from the roof is collected into the park-like Rain Garden, where a series of ponds cools and filters the water before returning it to the nearby Willamette River.www.oregoncc.org

The $47 million Overland Park, Kan., Convention Center is open for business, with 60,000 square feet of exhibition space, plus 25,000 square feet of banquet space and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. A 25,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard, between the center and the Sheraton headquarters hotel, can be used for outdoor exhibits.www.opconventioncenter.com

In Fort Wayne, Ind., groundbreaking took place May 1 for the expansion and renovation of Grand Wayne Convention Center. The $27 million expansion incorporates a new 50,000-square-foot multipurpose convention hall, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, and 15,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. Completion of the project is expected in spring 2005.www.grandwayne.com

Work is under way on the $160 million expansion and renovation of the Cincinnati Convention Center. The redesigned, 750,000-square-foot center will include nearly 200,000 square feet of exhibition space, more than 45,000 square feet of flexible meeting space (able to be configured into as many as 37 rooms), a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, and a 17,500-square-foot junior ballroom. An expanded loading dock will offer 17 berths and three semi-truck portals in the exhibition halls. The existing facility will also be renovated during the process. Completion is expected to be complete in mid-2006. The facility will remain open throughout construction.www.cincycenter.com

The Chattanooga, Tenn., Convention Center is nearly triple its original size. Exhibit space is up to 108,000 square feet, and there are 21 meeting rooms and six ballrooms. Entrances on opposite ends of the building permit hosting simultaneous, separate events. Although the center features T1 Internet access, wireless connectivity, and programmable lighting controls, the feature that gives it bragging rights is totally low-tech: natural light. Ceiling openings in the exhibit areas let exhibitors work by natural light during setup and tear-down, and use less electricity during shows — a major cost savings. During AV presentations, ceiling shades can be lowered.

An expansion to the Vancouver (B.C.) Convention and Exhibition Centre is slated to begin by the end of the year, with completion by 2008. The VCEC will house the media center for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, being held in Vancouver and Whistler. Both the Canadian government and the B.C. provincial government are contributing to the $406 million expansion project.

Branson, Mo., has approved a new downtown lakefront development, Branson Landing. The $300 million mixed-use complex will feature a 220,000-square-foot convention center with adjoining 300-room hotel and an 80-acre retail shopping and restaurant district. The convention center and hotel are expected to open in fall 2005.

A summer 2005 opening is projected for the Puerto Rico Convention Center, the centerpiece of a $400 million project on 113 acres on the San Juan waterfront. The 580,000-square-foot convention center will feature a 152,700-square-foot exhibition hall, a 39,500-square-foot ballroom (the largest in the Caribbean), and 36,200 square feet of meeting rooms.

New Mexico passed legislation that will allow Las Cruces to institute a daily $2.50 lodging surcharge to finance the construction of a proposed 80,000-square-foot, $20 million convention center. Construction should be complete in 2006.

When Hartford, Conn.'s new convention center opens in March, it will be the second-largest in New England (second only to the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center), with a 145,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 40,000-square-foot ballroom.

Oklahoma City, Okla., has completed its latest project in the $369 million Metropolitan Area Projects downtown revitalization, the Cox Business Services Convention Center. The $50 million renovation added 105,000 square feet of space, including 30,000 square feet of meeting room space — more than double the space previously available. High ceilings and wide expanses of glass overlooking the downtown landscape evoke the open feel of the Oklahoma prairie. Dramatic custom-designed chandeliers highlight the new 25,000-square-foot second-floor ballroom and corridors. Extensive pre-function and lobby areas, 21 new meeting rooms, kitchens and service corridors, and a granite-topped information desk — not to mention the crown jewel, a grand curving sandstone staircase — have all been added to accommodate groups of various sizes.

The Exhibit Hall, including the operable interior walls, has been refurbished from floor to ceiling for exhibitor convenience. Features include new lighting, an overhead door and truck docks, fiber optic infrastructure and in-floor utility connections.

The Cox center has been equipped with integrated state-of-the-art AV equipment, and floors and ceilings are wired to provide top-of-the-line communication capabilities. High-speed data transmissions, as well as computer and videoconferencing in meeting rooms and the ballroom, are available.

What's the Most Important Site Factor?

By far, logistics is the most important factor for planners when they are choosing a destination and a convention center.

That's the conclusion of the recently released Metropoll X biannual survey of meeting planners, which was conducted by Gerard Murphy & Associates, Petaluma, Calif.

For the study, GMA surveyed approximately 1,200 meeting planners, about 60 percent of which were association and 40 percent corporate, about their large (2,000 attendees or more) meetings. Of the planners surveyed, 83 percent said that convenient airline service was the most important factor in selecting a site, followed by availability of hotel rooms, good hotel rooms, and ease of getting to (79 percent); food and lodging costs (74 percent); and travel costs (73 percent).

Farther down the list came factors that have more of an effect on the attendee experience, such as climate (37 percent) and good restaurants (35 percent).

The biggest deterrent for planners was unsanitary conditions at a site (94 percent). A high crime rate (87 percent) and “nothing to do there” (75 percent) were the next most common detractors. And for the first time, fear of terrorism and SARS emerged as obstacles to selection of a destination: 73 percent of planners said a city that was a likely terrorist target was a deterrent, while 59 percent cited recent SARS publicity as a negative.

The study also looked at factors that influence convention center choices, finding that the most important criteria for all planners are adequate breakout rooms (74 percent); adequate seating at large sessions (73 percent); competent management (72 percent); and helpful staff and facility rental rates (67 percent).

The most popular convention centers got high marks for having both top-notch facilities and staff. Quite often, convention centers are strong in one area or the other, but not both, says GMA president Gerard Murphy.

The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu was voted the top convention center.

Influence in site selection was spread fairly evenly among organization leaders (68 percent); individual meeting planners (64 percent); and meeting management (62 percent). “This really shows the multiplicity of parties involved in site selection,” says Murphy.