Savannah has pulled off a pair of convention coups.
Two large trade associations will bring their annual conferences to town, Visit Savannah announced Wednesday. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) made a four-year commitment to keep its convention in Savannah through 2017 while the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) will hold its 2016 meetings and trade show at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
The ACCG deal was a “great save” for Savannah, said Joe Marinelli of Visit Savannah, the local convention and visitors bureau. The conference brings together more than 1,100 commissioners and staff from Georgia’s 159 counties for training and meetings and has been held at the Savannah Civic Center since 2004 and every other or every third year in prior decades.
The association had told Savannah officials it probably would move its conference once its current contract expired in 2013 because of deteriorating conditions at the Savannah Civic Center. The group had long resisted offers to relocate to the larger and more modern facilities at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center because it is located outside of downtown Savannah on Hutchinson Island.
"We fit very well in the Civic Center; the ballrooms and meeting rooms were just the right size and the arena was perfect for our vendors," said Carol Baker, ACCG's meeting planner. "Our members were comfortable with it, and with a lot of spouses coming in for the meeting, it was convenient to be downtown within walking distance of shopping and dining."
The ACCG was considering taking its business to the new Jekyll Island convention center. But the hotel to be built in conjunction with that facility has been beset by delays, and Savannah officials were able to coax the ACCG into staying in Savannah for at least four additional years.
“Our members and their families enjoy the vibrancy and history of the downtown area, and we think that the move to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center is ideal for us at this time,” said Ross King, executive director of the ACCG.
As for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, the group landed in Savannah in part because of a modification made to the trade center in 2012. Officials added a hangar-style door to the facility at the request of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.
The group wanted to display its crop-dusting planes inside the convention center and agreed to hold its 2012 and 2014 conferences and trade shows in Savannah if the door was installed.
The door and related improvements has proven a wise investment at $134,000, according to Marinelli. Several groups, including the U.S. Special Operations Command, have utilized the access.
“ALEA is one of many groups that can now look at Savannah and the trade center as an attractive option for industry trade shows needing inside accommodation for aircraft, as well as large farm and construction equipment,” said Bob Coffey, the trade center’s general manager.
The ALEA conference will draw more than 750 public safety pilots and other personnel to Savannah in July 2016. The group’s 2012 conference was held in Reno, Nev., and the 2013 event is scheduled for Orlando.
The opening of new convention centers at Jekyll Island and other places around the state were supposed to hurt Savannah’s convention business. It hasn’t.