Space crunch?

Finding event space in High Point a difficult proposition
Aug. 31, 2013 @ 08:12 PM

When it comes to competing for meetings, trade shows and conventions, it’s no secret that High Point lags behind some of its neighbors.
While it’s home to the mother of all home furnishings trade shows — the twice-yearly High Point Market — the city has lost some of the events that used to bring visitors to town at other times during the year.
The reason, according to High Point tourism leaders, is simple: a lack of exhibition space.
Two groups of consultants are finalizing reports that will provide guidance on how to find a long-term solution to this.
In the meantime, the man leading the charge to find a location that could serve as a large, multipurpose meeting space is Tim Mabe, president and CEO of the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“I’m going all over High Point — and I mean, I have been everywhere,” Mabe said.
He and others argue that a civic venue for community events would provide a critical economic boost to the city outside of the two weeks of market. Until last year, the mammoth furniture showroom Showplace hosted numerous trade shows and other events, but the building’s ownership changed and decided to reserve it primarily for furniture-related uses.
Mabe said he’s been talking with Showplace’s owner, International Market Centers, about another furniture building it owns as a prospective event-space site: the 430,000-square-foot showroom complex Market Square.
Market Square’s second and third floors are 80,000 square feet each and are vacant outside of market weeks. While it’s not the ideal location for a convention or other large event, it’s a short walk from the 252-room High Point Plaza Hotel, which served as the traditional host accommodations for past conventions in High Point.
The ideal scenario would be for the hotel and IMC to work in tandem on bringing events to the city, Mabe said.
“It’s very complicated and difficult to do. I’m hopeful of being able to work something out, not for it to be the sole place in High Point, but an alternative or another choice,” he said. “Plus, I think it would be good for the hotel and be good for a lot of things in that particular area.”
Another potential site is Oak Hollow Mall.
Its owner, High Point University, has not determined a future use for the site, but Mabe said he sees a lot of potential. For example, the recent Taste of the Town fundraiser event held at the mall for the first time drew a large crowd and positive reviews.
Mabe said the facility has several things going for it, including ample parking and the ability to accommodate thousands of people in one space.
“The mall is kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “My hope is that would cause Nido (Qubein, HPU president) to be receptive to discussion, and I think he is.”
Two reports due this fall should spur additional discussion on the topic of event space.
Strategic Advisory Group of Atlanta is conducting a feasibility study to assess High Point’s potential for a meeting or event facility. Architectural firm Duany Plater-Zyberk of Miami is producing another report that will entail revitalization strategies for a large part of the city.
Mabe said the hope is that the studies will complement each other in highlighting the importance of High Point having a convention space as a means of drawing visitors who will stay in the city’s hotels, dine in its restaurants and otherwise make an impact economically.
“The most exciting thing I think happening in all this is the consensus that High Point can be a definite year-round furniture destination,” he said. “We already have a tremendously powerful brand on furniture.”