People were stunned when they heard the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation (OTF) was moving its annual conference and trade show to a place in northern Ohio that’s famous for its themed water park. Would golf course superintendents, sports field managers and landscape contractors choose to float down a lazy river on tubes rather than soak in education from seminars?

After more than 20 years of staging the show at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in the state’s capitol city, OTF decided to move the show to Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in Sandusky, a city known around the state, and the country, for its amusement parks. The event is set for Dec. 9-11.

There has been a lot of talk and a lot of shock,” said Brian Laurent, OTF’s executive director.
Kalahari, one of the top water parks in the nation, is known for its wave pool and water coaster, not to mention its pool bar. But a lot of people don’t know that Kalahari also hosts conventions.

“Once you’re in the building’s convention center, you don’t even know there’s a water park,” Laurent said. “Once people get here it will make more sense to them. They will be pleasantly surprised.”

Kalahari is one of the newer convention centers in the state, according to Laurent. The reason OTF decided to move the convention there is the same reason other regional conventions in the green industry – and other industries for that matter – are moving theirs: economics.

“We’ve made great strides over the last two years, but like many associations, we’re not as healthy financially as we once were,” Laurent said. “The board wanted to look at all options, and make sure we were doing the right thing for the foundation. As we started looking at Kalahari, it made more sense to us.”

Kalahari will cost less for many on several levels. Exhibitors don’t have to rent carpeting, won’t spend as much on electricity, and will have free Wi-Fi throughout the facility. For attendees, a hotel room is $99 a night, compared to an average of $149 a night in Columbus. Parking is also free.

The bottom line is the bottom line, and the conference will be cheaper for exhibitors and attendees. Many will realize reduced expenses for participating in this year’s event. In addition, the foundation is looking to add a little spice to the show, including a Wednesday night social reception and a nine-hole putting contest, Laurent noted.

The exhibit hall is 30,000 square feet; OTF exhibitors will take up about 25,000 square feet.
“The venue makes a ton of sense for a show our size,” Laurent said.

Even though Sandusky isn’t a central location, it’s easy to get to from anywhere in the state because it’s just off the Ohio Turnpike, Laurent noted.

At Kalahari, attendees will never have to leave the facility if they don’t want to. The convention and education seminars, restaurants, bars and hotel rooms are all under one roof, which bodes well for a show that strives for interaction among its peers and vendors.

“This site is more conducive to that sense of community,” Laurent added.
The OTF is still undecided where the show will be held next year.

“Let’s see how this goes,” Laurent said. “But the majority of our exhibitors are excited for a new venue to shake things up a bit.”
Laurent expects exhibitor and attendee numbers to be about the same as last year.

While Kalahari is more than a water park, Laurent doesn’t discount that fact, and noted that many attendees plan to have their families join them later in the week for some relaxing in the lazy river.