Lack of major convention hall prompts Microsoft to yank 10-day meeting
By Frank Norton
For the second time this year Microsoft Corp. has pulled plans for a major convention in Greater Miami, blaming a lack of adequate meeting space.
After moving its giant Global Briefing conference from Miami to New Orleans earlier this year, the company is again spoiling potential revenue for local hospitality officials by moving a smaller meeting that had been considered the consolation prize. Microsoft's 2004 Tech Ed Conference was expected to attract about 10,000 visitors during 10 days and pump $13 million into the economy, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau officials said in August.
"But Tech Ed has outgrown Miami," said Barry Moskowitz, bureau associate vice president of sales.
"They've gone on record saying they want to be here, they love it here and would come back if we could meet their needs," he said of Microsoft event planners. "But until we have more space to work, with we'll have to keep that one on hold as well," he said of the Tech Ed event.
The bureau had already reserved space for Tech Ed for July and again for 2005 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, adjacent Jackie Gleason Theater and about 25 hotels, Mr. Moskowitz said.
The loss is significant for both the private and public sector, said Doug Tober, convention center general manager.
"Visitors spend money at restaurants, stores, on transportation and entertainment, and all those sales also carry taxes," he said. "With tourism being our number-one industry, that sales tax revenue is extremely important to us."
The center can handle meetings of about 5,000 people, he said, well below the needs of many large global conventions.
"Microsoft is an example of this type of business because they are so space intensive in their meeting needs... and that's what we've had trouble with in the past."
Founded in 1975 by Bill Gates, Microsoft is an international leader in software, services and Internet technologies. The company employs about 40,000 worldwide, with offices in more than 50 countries and regions.
The 17-day Global Briefing, the company's major convention, was held in Greater Miami in 2001, needing the American Airlines Arena for some of its largest meetings. After attracting 11,500 that year, the event grew to 18,000 attendees, organizers said, too large for the 19,600-seat American Airlines Arena since staging requirements would block the view from a third of the seats.
"Due to the size and production elements of that event, you really need a dome stadium rather than an arena," said Mike Ditter, regional vice president of Los Angeles-based Conference Direct, which plans many Microsoft events.
Beach officials are studying plans to triple capacity of the convention center's main ballroom, but that is still in the early stages.
Mr. Moskowitz said the bureau will maintain a close ties with Microsoft planners to lure them back when space increases.
"We're campaigning, building and maintaining that relationship. They've learned what a terrific destination this is; now it's up to us."