Houston's Big Breeze

By Ilona Kauremszky

Houston, Texas -- Enormous turbines on flatbed trucks, green space retrofitted for an outdoor concert and 776 exhibits demonstrating the virtues of the next big energy source took Houston by storm when the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) WINDPOWER 2008 Conference and Exhibition came to town last June.

"Texas is the nation's No. 1 market for wind power. Playing host to the WINDPOWER 2008 Conference & Exhibition in Houston was a great way to highlight the success of Texas as a world leader in wind," said Stephen Miner, AWEA conference and education director. "Texas hosts more than 4,400 megawatts of wind power."

Choosing the venue was a no-brainer. The George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB) has an A-list of green initiatives and ranks among the top 10 largest U.S. convention centers with 1.2 million square feet of exhibition, meeting and registration space. Organizers believed the facility would be able to easily accommodate the event.

But what representatives from the AWEA conference-ranked by Trade Show Weekly as among the fastest-growing trade shows in North America-didn't anticipate was the high attendance. Thirteen-thousand delegates, an 85 percent growth, arrived to seek out the latest industry developments and technologies, review new products and services and rub shoulders with leading industry decision makers.

"GRB offered us the flexibility to grow the show by 85 percent in attendance and exhibition square footage," Miner said. "This flexibility by the convention center, its staff and the hotel community was key to the success of the show. We also took advantage of the brand-new Discovery Green Park across from the convention center to host the first-ever WINDPOWER Concert, featuring Lyle Lovett. We were able to grow from two to four exhibit halls, move our general session from a smaller theater to a larger exhibit hall and move registration from a smaller foyer space to another exhibit hall and add new features such as the WINDPOWER Concert."

The conference was also about showcasing the newest technologies, which required displaying massive wind energy equipment. No small feat, but GRB General Manager Luther Villagomez maintains that the venue offers two big advantages for big shows.

"One is the exhibit floors, which are capable of handling extremely heavy loads, and two is an operational staff that knows how to deal with big equipment," he said, adding that WINDPOWER 2008 featured many large exhibits that would have overwhelmed a smaller facility.

"At the GRB, our exhibit floors have a load limit of 1,000 pounds per square foot. This is one of the highest capacities in North America," Villagomez said. "Based on its previous experience at other facilities, WINDPOWER anticipated making several adjustments such as load-spreaders to evenly distribute the weight of exhibits coming in on flatbed trucks. Secondly, we had a 'targeted' move-in for WINDPOWER, meaning that every aspect of move-in was precisely choreographed. The five-day move-in process started with the biggest exhibits moving in first, progressing to the smallest exhibits coming in last. Some of the largest exhibits needed as many as three different cranes to complete assembly. Getting all this in and out of the building in a timely manner allows big shows to begin seamlessly."

He says that logistic planning included using the convention center's off-site marshalling yards for scheduled truck arrivals, and some trucks required several days wait time until it was their turn to move freight into the building.

"We gained valuable experience in staging a show with heavy equipment demands. This will help as we seek more business in sectors that have large exhibits, such as energy and construction," Villagomez said. "Also, with the opening of Discovery Green we learned more about coordinating events at multiple off-site locations."

He notes that from a sales view, the success of WINDPOWER reinforces the importance of staying plugged into clients and their business.

"WINDPOWER was originally contracted for only two exhibit halls. But our sales team continued to track the show carefully in the years leading to Houston and noticed the explosive growth in the sustainable energy sector," he said. "As a result, we recommended to our client that we put a 'hold' on three more exhibit halls to allow for anticipated growth of the show by the time 2008 rolled around. As it turned out, WINDPOWER crushed its previous attendance records, nearly doubling its attendance-from 7,000 to 13,000-and used every square inch of the ground floor, all 639,000 square feet. By staying in touch with events that were impacting our client, we saw an emerging giant and were able to take steps to accommodate the show's explosive growth." One+

ILONA KAUREMSZKY is former editor of Corporate Meetings & Events magazine and a weekly travel columnist.

What's New in Houston

• In an effort to preserve downtown green space, the long-awaited Discovery Green, which came in at approximately US$122 million, opened in April. The city's 12-acre, Wi-Fi-connected park includes an amphitheater, multi-recreational paths, two restaurants, public art and underground parking and is in close proximity to public transit, hotels and the George R. Brown Convention Center.

• Part of its green master plan, the George R. Brown Convention Center is set to install 100-kilowatt solar panels atop the 16-acre roof this year after receiving an $850,000 grant approval from Houston Endowment Inc.

• The city's first downtown, mixed-use development in 20 years, the Houston Pavilions, opened in October. The three-block entertainment hub includes dining, entertainment, retail and office space.

Fun Facts

• Houston is the nation's largest municipal purchaser of wind energy according to the Mayor's Office, which reported in July that it contracted the purchase of more than 350 million kilowatts of wind energy.

• The most heart surgeries worldwide are performed at the Texas Medical Center. Considered the world's largest healthcare complex, 46 institutions including 13 hospitals comprise the facility, which has grown significantly since it opened in 1943.

• The Houston Grand Opera is the nation's only opera company to earn a Grammy, Tony and Emmy.

Transportation Tips

• Downtown by cab just got cheaper. The city has a US$6 flat taxi fee for all trips in the downtown area.

• Use Metro's Airport Direct for transfers from George Bush Intercontinental Airport's Terminal C to downtown. The transit company calls it the 30/30/30 service. That's a 30-minute non-stop trip, leaving every 30 minutes for $30 roundtrip.


photo: Stephen Smith

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