North­land’s Expo Cen­tre no sub­sti­tute for con­ven­tion space

Edmonton Journal - - CITYPLUS - GOR­DON KENT Civic Af­fairs Writer ED­MON­TON gkent@ed­mon­ton­jour­

Al­though eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials are look­ing for more lo­cal con­ven­tion space, they say us­ing North­lands’ Expo Cen­tre in­stead of ex­pand­ing the Shaw Con­fer­ence Cen­tre isn’t the an­swer.

The prob­lem is the two fa­cil­i­ties serve dif­fer­ent mar­kets, ex­perts say — the Shaw is de­signed for con­ven­tions and the much larger Expo Cen­tre is aimed at con­sumer and trade shows.

“Space is not space,” said Ron Gil­bert­son, pres­i­dent of the city-owned Ed­mon­ton Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp., which runs the Shaw.

“When we’re not able to ac­com­mo­date a con­ven­tion down­town, we fre­quently re­fer them to North­lands, but they’re not in­ter­ested in be­ing out of down­town.”

Del­e­gates are at­tracted to the restau­rants and other ameni­ties in the city cen­tre, which needs an­other 800 to 900 ho­tel rooms to meet grow­ing con­ven­tion de­mand.

The de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion is work­ing on plans over the next decade to dou­ble the 13,000 square me­tres that can be rented at the Shaw, fear­ing other­wise it will con­tinue to lose busi­ness to other cities with larger halls.

In the past 2 ½ years, it has had to turn away about 40 events.

The fo­cus is on ex­tend­ing the cen­tre over Gri­er­son Hill Road and down the side of the North Saskatchewan River val­ley, a pro­ject Mayor Stephen Man­del said could cost $450 mil­lion.

He wants the de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion to con­sider ex­tend­ing the Shaw north­east, un­der Jasper Av­enue, to a multi-storey park­ing garage, con­ven­tion cen­tre and ho­tel on land oc­cu­pied by the Hard­ware Grill restau­rant and other her­itage build­ings.

A rec­om­men­da­tion on how to ex­pand the cen­tre is ex­pected in nine to 18 months.

The Expo Cen­tre is on the site of the for­mer Agri­Com, which re­cently un­der­went a $150-mil­lion ex­pan­sion to 41,000 square feet.

Coun. Amar­jeet Sohi has sug­gested there needs to be more co-or­di­na­tion on the amount of ad­di­tional meet­ing space needed, es­pe­cially with the pos­si­bil­ity of con­ven­tion ar­eas in the pro­posed arena and en­ter­tain­ment district.

Coun. Ed Gib­bons, a mem­ber of the North­lands ex­ec­u­tive, has said the Expo Cen­tre is de­signed for trade shows and the Shaw is aimed at con­ven­tions, so there wouldn’t be much ben­e­fit in putting the two op­er­a­tions to­gether.

A de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion re­port agrees, in­di­cat­ing there isn’t much scope for com­bin­ing con­ven­tion op­er­a­tions with North­lands.

“There has been some dis­cus­sion of the po­ten­tial for the ex­panded Expo Cen­tre acting as an over­flow fa­cil­ity for events that can­not be ac­com­mo­dated at the (Shaw),” it says.

“This sce­nario is un­likely as con­ven­tion plan­ners gen­er­ally se­lect lo­ca­tions close to the ur­ban cen­tre and in prox­im­ity to ho­tels and ameni­ties. The Expo Cen­tre cur­rently is un­able to pro­vide these of­fer­ings.”

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