The International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) returned to New York City for the first time in 17 years, setting an attendance record in the process.

Held Jan. 22-24 at Jacob Javits Convention Center, the event drew 39,298 visitors, breaking the record of 38,224 set in 2003 in Chicago, Clay Stevens, president of International Exposition Co., producer and manager of the AHR Expo, said. Including 19,824 exhibitor personnel, total attendance was 59,122.

"That's bigger than most U.S. townships," Stevens said. "I think attendance could have been even stronger if the housing market was better."

Show-floor aisles were jammed throughout the first two days of the event. The typical slowdown on the show's third day failed to dampen exhibitors' enthusiasm.

"We exhibit at many shows, ... and the traffic so far has been 10 times better than any other show I've been to," Mike Ruff, chief operating officer and senior vice president of IntelliDyne, said.

"I haven't seen this type of traffic in several years at any show," Peter Harper, vice president of strategic marketing for General Tools & Instruments, said. "We are seeing all the people we want to meet--contractors, distributors, end users, and students."

Fears that a large number of exhibitors would stay away because of negative experiences at previous expos in New York City proved unfounded.

"Many exhibitors were saying this is the best market or one of the best markets for the HVACR industry in the U.S.," Stevens said. "The majority of exhibitors said the Northeast region was the strongest market."

Dry weather with temperatures in the 30s and the fact the show had not been in New York City for so long also helped drive attendance, Stevens said.

The weak U.S. dollar worked in the show's favor by making the show more affordable to international attendees, Stevens said. The show drew 6,778 international visitors from 132 countries, both AHR Expo records.

The burgeoning green-building initiative was evident during the show. Highlights included:

• An exhibit on zero-energy buildings from the U.S. Department of Energy, an exhibit and seminar sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Star, and information booths sponsored by the Green Mechanical Council and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

• Free educational sessions on green topics, including "Greenspeak: Understanding the Language and Concepts" and "Going Green and the Plan and Spec Representative."

The Building Intelligence Tour highlighted the strong connection between intelligent buildings and sustainability. Speakers addressed a variety of topics, ranging from enterprise integration to lighting and daylighting controls to measurement and rating of building performance and intelligence.

Other highlights included the debut of the Plumbing and Hydronics Symposium and the presentation of the AHR Expo Innovation Awards. Nordyne received the second annual Product of the Year award for its 23-SEER air conditioner with iQ Drive.

Held in conjunction with the AHR Expo was the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers' (ASHRAE's) 2008 Winter Meeting, during which representatives of the newly formed Commercial Buildings Initiative--a collaboration of the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Institute of Architects, ASHRAE, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the USGBC, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development--explained why a net-zero-energy commercial building is an essential part of energy independence and efforts to combat global warming.