Against a backdrop of colorful leis, table orchids, and hula dancers, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society launched the 2012 flower show Thursday morning: "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha" opens to the public March 4 and runs till March 11 at the Convention Center, 12th and Market Streets.
"This is a show like you've never seen before," said horticultural society president Drew Becher, who outlined new features of the 183-year-old event, officially known as the Philadelphia International Flower Show, before an enthusiastic crowd on the 33d floor of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel in Center City.
On entering the show, visitors will immediately experience motion graphics designed to simulate the ocean floor with waves crashing overhead. There will be a 25-foot (real) waterfall, thousands of orchids and other tropical plants, four showcase exhibits depicting Hawaii cowboy culture, a destination beach wedding, "the hula as inspiration," a fancy surfers' retreat, and a "rocky garden of the gods," according to Sam Lemheney, the show's designer.
Dancers, musicians, and craftspeople will come from Hawaii, although the hula dancers and musicians at the kickoff were from the Aloha Style dance troupe in Narberth. (One of the dancers, Kimi Artita, a water-resources engineer from Bryn Mawr, was born and raised in Hawaii.)
The horticultural society has rejiggered the show's floor plan for the first time since the event moved from the Civic Center in West Philadelphia to the Convention Center in 1996. This is expected to improve the flow of foot traffic, a perennial problem at the show.
The horticultural society has redesigned the Marketplace, grouping vendors by theme and reorienting the aisles to mirror the rest of the show. There also will be a new - free - flower show app; a 100-seat restaurant in the middle of the Convention Center; a 40-vendor Hawaii Village with native crafts and products, and a reality show-style floral design competition.
Several new sponsors have signed on, Becher said, including Bank of America, U.S. Trust, Einstein Health Care Network, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Organic Gardening Magazine, and SugarHouse Casino. In 2011, PNC Bank ended a 20-year run as the show's presenting sponsor, which was its main corporate support. It contributed more than $7 million during that time, a sum Becher has said he would make up with many smaller sponsorships.
The casino's role is bound to cause a buzz. It's putting together a new "man cave," a room where men (and women) can hang out and enjoy big-screen TVs, wide seats, virtual golf and games, and a bar.
The Flower Show has been in existence since 1829, making it the oldest in the nation. It traditionally raises about $1 million for the horticultural society's greening programs, including City Harvest, this year's primary beneficiary.
Last year, attendance hit 265,000, the highest total since 2002.
Also in 2011, a study by KPMG, the audit and tax firm, estimated the show's economic impact on the Philadelphia region at $61 million.