The American Wind Energy Association has blown off Minneapolis for its 2009 convention because demand for exhibition space has far outstripped the capacity of the city's Convention Center.
The decision is testimony to the huge growth of the conference and the industry, but it's also painful because of the economic loss and the fact that Minnesota was an early mover in the wind industry and is one of the nation's top three wind-power generators.
The fast-growing national conference expects to host at least 13,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors for its 2009 convention, and they won't all fit into the Minneapolis Convention Center.
"This is very disappointing," said Randall Swisher, executive director of the wind association who signed a contract with "Meet Minneapolis," the former convention and visitors association, in 2006.
"The folks at the Convention Center were extremely accommodating. It's just too small. We were moving exhibitors to the second floor and to hotel ballrooms and tents in the parking lot, and then we started to get some push-back from exhibitors and companies who wanted more space -- and, after redesigning the show several times, we decided it would not work."
Swisher said the several-day conference in June could end up in Orlando or Las Vegas -- alien territory for the wind industry. But those cities are among the few in the nation where the industry can land the 700,000-plus square feet of same-floor exhibition space it needs. (That's about seven small Target stores.)
The Minneapolis Convention Center boasts about 400,000 square feet of exhibition space.
Laura McCarthy, Meet Minneapolis marketing communications director, said the deal was booked when the conference was less than half the size of the 2008 conference recently held in Houston.
"We gave them a lot of options, but that convention has grown exponentially," she said. "We had plenty of rooms and hotel space when they booked. But at that time they said they needed 2,100 peak-night rooms and two exhibit halls, and now they say they need 5,000 peak-night hotel rooms and every square inch of the Convention Center and more."
Minneapolis hoteliers, restaurateurs and other beneficiaries will miss out on an estimated $15 million in spending.
"It's a devastating loss," said McCarthy, who added that lawyers are reviewing the contract to see if the association has a financial obligation to the city.
The Wind Energy Association held one of its earliest national conferences in Minneapolis.
"In 1994 we had about 500 people attend and we were thrilled," Swisher said.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144