Newcomers jazz up convention scene

By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer

When HP Hood, the dairy company based in Lynnfield, Mass., started looking to relocate its annual amateur cooking competition from Portland, Maine, after three years there, there were lots of reasons to consider Providence. More

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HOSPITALITY & TOURISM

Newcomers jazz up convention scene

COURTESY FINE FURNISHINGS SHOW
A FINE HOME: Stephen Barlow of Shaker Style in Harrisville, N.H., will be a first-time exhibitor at the Fine Furnishing Shows in Pawtucket next month.
COURTESY BALLROOM VERMONT
A NEW TUNE: Sharon Bourque and John Albert dance at the 2011 Ballroom Vermont – Dance Camp for Grownups in West Dover, Vt., which will relocate to the Crowne Plaza.
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By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 10/8/12

When HP Hood, the dairy company based in Lynnfield, Mass., started looking to relocate its annual amateur cooking competition from Portland, Maine, after three years there, there were lots of reasons to consider Providence.

The success of Cranston’s Dan Rinaldi, who produced surf-and-turf sliders with Maine lobster sauce and was a recent winner of the competition, may not have influenced the move, but Providence’s foodie reputation certainly did.

“Obviously, there’s a really great restaurant scene, and we wanted to take advantage of that,” said Sarah Barow, Hood public relations manager. “Johnson & Wales [University] is going to be our partner and we love that we’re able to work with them. The convention center location was just perfect. [All this] really allows our guests to have a great experience and it made it a no-brainer for us.”

The fourth annual Hood New England Dairy Cook-Off, in which cooks compete with an original recipe that includes at least one of several designated Hood dairy products, will be held Oct. 21 at the R.I. Convention Center in downtown Providence.

It’s just one of several shows that recently have announced plans to relocate to Greater Providence for a variety of reasons that mirror those given by Karla Little, owner of the Fine Furnishings Shows, which has included a stop in the area for the past 16 years at the Convention Center.

That show returns here Nov. 2-4 but this year is being held at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center largely to accommodate the practical needs of the show’s attendees, including being able to easily load up their cars with purchases.

“Providence is the center of the wheel, the hub if you will. My primary draw is a half-hour drive from all directions to Providence,” Little said.

New to the area this year is the 4th New England Broadcast & Cable Expo, being held at the convention center Oct. 16 in conjunction with the 15th annual Media Educators of America fall conference.

The Jazz Vermont-Band Camp for Grownups and the Ballroom Vermont – Dance Camp for Grownups will mark their first year in Rhode Island running consecutively from Aug. 4-16, 2013, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Providence-Warwick at the Crossings in Warwick. Those shows are relocating here after years of taking place in Vermont.

The Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau said it has been a very successful year for meeting and convention business. Resulting new business, says Kristin Adamo, vice president of marketing and communications, is due to the bureau’s ongoing sales efforts and a turnaround in the economy that has produced a general upswing in tourism. The latter includes the city reaching 80 percent in hotel-occupancy rate this past summer for the first time since October 2004.

“We certainly don’t want to poach clients from other destinations. We try to put together the best product we can and go after things that make sense,” Adamo said. “It’s definitely just as important to keep business as it is to get new business.”

Byron Siegel, founder of the jazz and ballroom dance camps, said he was courted by several metropolitan areas between Mystic, Conn., and Burlington, Vt., when he began to look to a new venue after his camps were placed out of their regular hotel.

Siegel signed a three-year contract with the Crowne Plaza Hotel for several reasons, including, he said, its ample function space that allows all the different meeting classes to peacefully co-exist, the proximity to T.F. Green Airport and the chance to be closer to the Boston and New York markets simultaneously.

His camps will bring a total of about 260 people, which the PWCVB translated to, over three years, approximately 2,670 hotel-room nights.

“There are a lot of positive things in Warwick,” Siegel said. “The facilities look to be just what the doctor ordered.”

The venue change for Fine Furnishings Show also was driven by flexibility. Little said though it was a tough decision to go from Providence to Pawtucket, she saw positive effects when she moved her other shows in Baltimore and Milwaukee from convention centers in those cities.

Though she does not disclose attendance figures, there are 50 exhibitors and between 75 and 100 artisans and craftsmen expected this year.

This year’s show will feature the Rhode Island School of Design’s food truck – Rosie’s: Eats to Go. Students in RISD’s furniture-making program have long been show exhibitors.

Jan Haughey, a partner in JaDa Events, which puts on the New England Broadcast & Cable Expo, expects about 400 attendees at this year’s event. One hundred exhibitors plan to arrive and stay in Providence the night before the show.

The expo had been held in Worcester, Mass., and Haughey and her company decided to move the show around – perhaps from year to year – in order to accommodate all its New England attendees.

They were attracted to Providence by the convention center’s aesthetics, space and the city’s culinary and cultural reputation.

“We’re certainly pushing that aspect and the exhibitors are also quite happy with that,” Haughey said.

The expo isn’t committed to returning to Providence. Haughey said the plan is to go back to Worcester for 2013 and that locations are being scouted for 2014.

Nothing is set in stone for the HP Hood Cook-Off either. The show brings in about 250 attendees, in addition to its 36 contestants.

Barow said many contestants bring their families into town and stay the weekend.

Siegel’s new location will allow him to grow attendance and he hopes the Warwick shows will bring in some commuter business, which he’s never had. He’s offering attendees a pre-show excursion to the Newport mansions that includes a downtown Newport luncheon.

“We anticipate staying [in Warwick],” Siegel said. “If it’s working, I don’t go looking for more trouble.” •

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