Northland’s Expo Centre no substitute for convention space
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.”