Serious business requires a serious venue, and many of today’s dedicated convention centres certainly fit the bill for meetings and events of all shapes and sizes.

Come December 2016, the eyes of the world’s meeting fraternity will hopefully be focused on Sydney and Darling Harbour and its brand spanking new convention and exhibition facility.

It will be an exciting time for Sydney and Australia with the completion of the multi-million dollar venue that promises to bring for the city a resurgence of international conference business that has been slowing since its closure.

Recently returned from the IMEX America exhibition in Las Vegas, CEO of the International Convention Centre Sydney and Director Convention Centres AEG Ogden, Geoff Donaghy, says the ICC Sydney is the sizzle in the story about Sydney right now.

“What we feel we’re creating is a whole new exciting model.”

And the good news is that the world is taking notice, with meetings business reportedly moving full steam ahead, and plenty of interest on the centre at IMEX America.

Wearing his other hat as president of the AIPC, a global network of more than 170 leading convention and exhibition centres in 54 countries, Mr Donaghy said a recent survey found the level of confidence in the business events sector is high right now.

“America seems to have come out of it [the GFC] very well. Europe, there are pockets of a lack of confidence but it is generally very good. With our AIPC member venues there is something like 70 per cent considering expansion or refurbishment.

“Governments around the world have well and truly caught onto the benefits of business events.

“To be serious in this space requires capital investment from the public sector in combination with the private sector, as is the case with ICC Sydney. And they also recognise that you have to have a serious venue to be serious about this business.

“We’re aware of every project being built around the world, or on the drawing boards, and there is none any more exciting than the ICC Sydney because of the centre itself, the proximity to the city, and the immediate precinct, and because of what’s happening with everything around here – the creative industries, the IT and tech industries that are now popping up.”

Once completed, the ICC Sydney appears that it won’t be disappointing meeting planners or the exhibition sector.

A bold decision was taken to knock down the old centre rather than add to it. The end result will see a 50 per cent increase in exhibition space, a 2500-seat raked theatre, a 1000-seat raked theatre, a 750-seat plenary space, and banqueting and meetings space that can do events for 2500, 1000 and 750 persons concurrently. On top of that there is also an 8000-seat theatre allowing the ICC Sydney to cater for a vast range of meetings and events of various sizes and configurations.

“Some exhibition organisers would have liked more exhibition space but you have to pick the sweet spot in that equation. And there were some constraints,” Mr Donaghy said.

“The unique benefits of being right downtown in the CBD came with some space constraints. Our design – which we think is very creative – came up with about 50 per cent more exhibition space.”

ICC Sydney director of business development, Beverley Parker, concurs there was extraordinary interest in the venue at IMEX America.

“We have a terrific fly-over which gives people a better understanding of the centre and the entire precinct, which was well received,” Ms Parker said.

“While we were there we also launched our new website. It’s the first version with some good basic facts, and we have an updated version coming out next month.”

And it won’t just be the facilities that will make this venue world class.

In keeping with Australia’s growing recognition as a food lover’s capital, the ICC Sydney will pay particular attention to its food and beverage capabilities.

“And we won’t just be focusing on high-quality food, we’ll really work towards showcasing local food – NSW producers and NSW wines,” Mr Donaghy said.

“Food will be an incredibly important part of the total offering.”

With 5000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the venue, plus the construction of a new 600-room property onsite (Sofitel earmarked for opening in 2017), the new centre is expected to attract local, national and international business.

Melbourne keeps pace

Not one to be left behind by any stretch of the imagination, the city of Melbourne received a welcome announcement by the Victorian state government that expansion of its dedicated convention and exhibition centre would be going ahead. A statement said the proposal expands the South Wharf precinct footprint to include new retail space, additional car parks, hotel accommodation and multi-purpose convention and exhibition facilities.

By Brad Foster

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