By early April, as many as 189 members had signed a petition asking ARVO leaders to keep the annual meeting in the southern Florida tourist destination. Beginning in 2013, the meeting will convene in various major cities, including Seattle.
But Dr. McLoon, a member of the ARVO board and its site-selection committee, hopes her colleagues will keep an open mind. After touring eight sites, she feels certain they will like what they see in the new locations, which can accommodate more program options and have a variety of hotel options nearby.
"I actually think the meeting is going to be different in these different locations, but I think personally it is going to be better because we can do more creative things, we can do different kinds of programming," she said. "I think they're going to be happy."
Organizers say the space at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center simply has become inadequate. Cramped meeting space meant they were limited in the types of programs and opportunities for collaboration they could provide. And without a large, attached hotel, attendees were spread across 32 hotels as far as 50 miles from the convention center.
"The bottom line is, really, we outgrew the facility," said Lancey Cowan, ARVO's director, meeting logistics. "In program development, there wasn't a lot of flexibility."
Since ARVO moved its meeting from Sarasota to Fort Lauderdale in 1995, the meeting has grown from some 7,000 attendees to about 12,000 people from all over the world who come to share the latest in vision research and to network with colleagues. About 6,500 abstracts are programmed for this month's meeting, compared with 4,930 in 1995.
The meeting had so maxed out its space that not one more coffee kiosk could be plugged in without potentially overloading the building's circuits, Dr. McLoon said.
Accessibility to coffee and wireless Internet service were cited as attendees' two most-desired attributes, she added.
Even more importantly, the closest hotel, with 589 rooms, is a 10-minute walk away, Cowan said
Cost is also a concern. Rates at the nearest, most-used hotels run about $250, she said, and those with rates between $99 and $119 have just 10 rooms.
By contrast, in Seattle, ARVO staff confirmed a $179 rate at a large hotel very close to the convention center. A number of moderately priced hotels are nearby.
Having attendees staying in close proximity allows more collegiality, organizers said. It also makes it easier for them to come back to their hotel rooms mid-day and return for evening events, Dr. McLoon said.
"People were spending literally an hour on the shuttle buses trying to get to the meeting," she said.
Lower-priced hotels also make it possible for research teams and more junior members to attend, Dr. McLoon added.