1st Convention Center Show Is Ready to Open : Boats: The San Diego International Boat Show will launch the still unfinished center on its official career.


Fiberglass power boat manufacturer Four Winns has built its annual sales to $165 million and created an impressive network of 172 dealerships nationwide since the company was founded in Cadillac, Mich., in 1976..

But so far Four Winns' reach in the West has been negligible, said Dennis Christensen, the company's marketing manager. Only nine of Four Winns' dealerships are in California. "We really haven't tapped into the vast California market yet," Christensen said.

Four Winns hopes that's going to change after this week. The company is one of nearly 650 exhibitors at the San Diego International Boat Show opening Nov. 30, the first trade show to he held in the $162-million San Diego Convention Center.

The primary objective of Four Winns' appearance here is to generate more brand name recognition for its boats, and by extension, more Golden State dealers and buyers, Christensen said.

The manufacturer also sees the show as a way of hyping its export business, which today accounts for 8% to 10% of the company's annual revenues.

"Industry insiders are saying that, in time, the San Diego Boat Show could draw some Pacific customers this way," Christensen said. "This show could do for the West Coast what Miami has done for the East," he said, referring to the Miami International Boat Show. With 850 exhibitors, the Miami show is the largest of its kind and attracts visitors from around the world.

Such optimism was expressed by several of the exhibitors, even though some of them encountered glitches while moving their exhibits and products into the convention center. An exhibit hall entryway with a low ceiling caused headaches for exhibitors trying to move in big boats.

"The dummy who designed this place obviously forgot that people were going to be bringing boats in here," said Ron Richardson, president of Newport Yacht Exchange, Inc.--a Newport Beach dealer of Carver Yachts.

Richardson had to remove the hard top off a 49-foot, $350,000 Carver motor yacht in order to squeeze the vessel through the low-clearance entrance into the exhibit hall.

"We had to take it apart just to get in here," said Sondra Richardson, Ron's wife. "With the hardtop off, the yacht is 15 feet tall. And, even with it off, we still barely got in."

Few complaints were heard, however, about the fact that the convention center was not quite completed. Some elevators weren't functioning, carpeting was not all in place and the outdoor floor space beneath the convention center's huge top-level canopy has not been finished.

"Sure things were a bit rushed," said Peter Zaleski, a sales representative for Sea Ray, the second largest U.S. recreational boat manufacturer based in Knoxville, Tenn. "Some minor details need to be taken care of, but if you look at the big picture, things are in pretty good shape."

Zaleski had only one major concern: lack of parking.

"I've heard that there are only 2,000 spaces--that's not going to cut it," Zaleski said. "My workers alone are going to have about 40 cars."

John Rogers, the boat show's chief executive director, says he's taken care of the parking problem. In addition to the center's 1,200 underground parking spaces, planners have gained access to an additional 4,000 spaces in outdoor lots near the center.

Officials say they may need all those spaces to accommodate up to 175,000 guests expected to attend the five-day consumer part of the show starting Friday night. The first two days of the show beginning Thursday are set aside for as many as 10,000 trade representatives expected to attend.

Rogers says the show is already successful: he has rented the entire 557,000 square feet of indoor floor space available to exhibitors. But he acknowledges that waiting for the convention center to open caused him some sleepless nights.

"Let's put it this way, I didn't have one gray hair when I took on this job--now, look at me" said the white-haired Rogers.

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