Behind the scenes of the Lehigh Valley Auto Show – WFMZ Allentown

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh Valley Auto Show begins Thursday and runs until March 26th on Lehigh University’s Goodman Campus. But the planning of the annual event is year-round, and involves complicated and time consuming work behind the scenes that attendees likely never realize.

About three months of the year, the Greater Lehigh Valley Auto Dealers Association’s time is dominated with planning the event.

“From mid-December, until the show is over, it’s 100%,” said Tom Kwiatek, Executive Director of the organization.

In fact, planning for next year has technically already begun.

“Many exhibit houses who represent manufacturers have emailed me asking about 2018 dates,” said Kwiatek. “In 2016, Toyota contacted us within 30 days of the show [ending] and asked how much it would cost to increase their space.”

It was Toyota’s request, in fact, that compelled Kwiatek to increase the size of the event this year, stretching to 130,000 square feet of space.

The tents used at the auto show present a logistical hurdle and represent the show’s biggest single cost. The setup begins eight to 10 days before the event. That puts a timely start to the show at the whim of the weather, because the load in cannot be done during a snowstorm. This year, for instance, was a close call because of the late season storm that struck the area, but Lehigh University removed the snow in time.

Another year, a snowstorm on the Friday of the show forced them to close down at 2 p.m. that day so snow could be removed from the roof of a tent after a generator malfunctioned.

Those are problems the Auto Show would not contend with if it could be held indoors.

“Ideally they are done in large convention centers,” said Kwiatek.

The amount of space the Auto Show needs makes Lehigh’s grounds the logical choice.

“They are the only location in the Lehigh Valley who can give me 130,000 square feet,” he said. “If you build a 150,000 square foot convention center I’ll sign a 20-year contract.”

About 50,000 people are expected to attend, with about 300 vehicles on site. Like any event of this magnitude, the Auto Show deals with plenty of unexpected problems that give the organizers headaches. Just Wednesday, BMW dropped its cars off at the event and did not leave all the keys.

Another year, a luxury dealer brought his vehicles into the venue with full tanks of gas and the batteries attached, both of which violate the rules enforced by the fire marshal. The mistake forced Kwiatek and his team to remove the cars and drive them around the area until the tanks were down to one quarter full. That may not sound like a big problem, except that they needed to move half the cars in the already filled-to-capacity room in order to do it. Nevertheless, Kwiatek said last year was “the smoothest operational show” they have done.

Visitor surveys reveal some surprises in terms of who attends the event. The list is dominated, of course, by residents of the Lehigh Valley and the immediate surrounding areas. But occasionally, people from Ohio, New York or Washington, D.C. come to the show. Most of the people, Kwiatek believes, are already in town on a visit.

“Generally, we don’t think they’re making the trip,” he said.

But there are some who indeed come from several hours away specifically to attend.

“They like our show. They say it’s more customer friendly,” said Kwiatek. “Some of the larger metropolitan shows you literally are a number.”

A preview gala for the show will be held Wednesday night to benefit Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Children’s Hospital.

The main Auto Show runs from March 23rd to March 26th. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for kids and senior citizens.


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