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‘Small city’ forms with Fort Lauderdale show preparations

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is now spread across seven locations, but the massive show still gets built in about two weeks—akin to building “a small city for a week.”

That’s according to Show Management chief operating officer Dane Graziano, who says building the pavilions and other facilities for the 100,000-plus people who attend the show is a highly orchestrated event.

The 2014 show opens Thursday and will continue through Monday.

Show Management produces the annual event, now featuring 3 million square feet of exhibit space and $3 billion in boats and other gear on display. The company works year-round to get it right. Show Management and Soundings Trade Only are owned by Active Interest Media.

"We have 20,000 exhibitors and crew credentialed and building in the days before the show." Graziano told the Sun-Sentinel. "That's a small city."

"And it's all orchestrated," he said.

Exhibitors marvel at how well the plans work, even as the event gets bigger and more complicated. Superyacht advocate Kitty McGowan has been busy for weeks just to arrange the interior of her pavilion.

"I have so many moving parts," said McGowan, executive director of the US Superyacht Association. "And we're like a speck on a speck on a speck," compared with the "massive beast they put together."

Boat dealer Matt Semarini worries each year that he'll forget something and miss the time scheduled for heavy equipment to install the boats in his exhibit.

"I'm always in a panic before the show," said Semarini, vice president of sales and marketing at Riva Motorsports & Marine of Pompano Beach. "I've got my punch list. I have to make sure I have everything there for the forklift."

Preparations are ever more complex because the event has mushroomed in size and scope. When Graziano started out 26 years ago, boats took up only the south side of Bahia Mar marina. Now the show fills all of Bahia Mar and this year added its seventh venue at Pier 66 marina.

"It's a real invasion of Normandy kind of thing," said Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist III, CEO of Active Interest Media.

For show-goers, the team works months in advance with the Florida Department of Transportation and municipal officials to try to avoid road closings around event time. And it coordinates 25 buses, 14 water taxis and three river buses that handle visitors during the show, Graziano said.

What's harder to plan, of course, is the weather for a show held in the waning weeks of hurricane season. Hurricane Sandy dumped hefty rain on the event, which is owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, in 2012.

Yet Show Management is working to reduce that risk, too. “We're planning to move the show one week later next year because of the weather," Zimbalist said.

It will start on the first Thursday of November, not the last Thursday of October.

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