CaliforniaAugust 1, 2014

An Expanding Convention Scene Up and Down the Coast By
August 1, 2014


An Expanding Convention Scene Up and Down the Coast
The American Financial  Services Association rented San Diego’s USS Midway for a reception on the vintage aircraft carrier’s flight deck. Credit: Michele Battaline, CMP

The American Financial Services Association rented San Diego’s USS Midway for a reception on the vintage aircraft carrier’s flight deck. Credit: Michele Battaline, CMP

In California, the nation’s third largest state after Alaska and Texas, there are numerous iconic and colorful site selection options, from a sophisticated metropolis like San Francisco to a quaint seaside town like Monterey. Yet California’s multidimensional cities offer much more than sun ’n’ fun. Depending on their inclinations and the season, delegates can enjoy skiing, hiking, theme park rides, art museums and music festivals, and some of the best hotels and resorts in the country.

Though California’s endless appeal begins with its distinctive beauty, for planners, the Golden State’s expanded and expanding convention centers in San Francisco, San Jose, Anaheim and San Diego, seal the deal. And of course, they love the wide range of uniquely Californian venues available for memorable events.

San Diego

A great example in San Diego is the USS Midway, one of America’s longest-serving aircraft carriers, which was laid down in 1943 and was the largest ship in the world until 1955. The museum, featuring more than 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft, made for a memorable offsite excursion for attendees of the 2012 American Financial Services Association’s Independence Conference & Exposition. “We rented out pretty much the whole aircraft carrier,” notes Michele Battaline, CMP, director, meetings and conferences. “We did a reception on the flight deck followed by dinner inside where they have flight simulators. Grown men became like young boys in the simulators; they loved it.” The 450 attendees also loved experiencing a different kind of history at their host property, the Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888. The beachside, Victorian-style resort offers 679 renovated guest rooms and 65,000 sf of meeting space.

AFSA may qualify as a Cali­fornia “regular” with its 2014 Independence Conference & Exposition held in La Quinta, and its 98th Annual Meeting to be held in Los Angeles in October.

Area updates include the news that the San Diego Convention Center expansion will not commence late this year as had been scheduled, due to a state appeals court’s ruling the financing plan invalid. While the numbers are straightened out, the facility continues to be a strong economic engine, recently hosting conventions such as the American Thoracic Society Annual International Conference and the NAFSA 2014 Annual Conference & International Education Expo. The facility currently offers 525,701 sf of exhibit space and 204,114 sf of meeting/ballroom space.

Meanwhile, improvements to the city’s hotel infrastructure are moving along. The Bay Club Hotel & Marina, for example, will soon complete a $1.2 million makeover that includes a remodeling of all 105 guest rooms and upgrades to its 2,000 sf of meeting space.

Suitable for much larger groups, the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego completed the redesign of its 1,628 guest rooms and suites last summer, and this year continued with the completion of its first- and fourth-floor meeting spaces, including two ballrooms. Bayview, a 2,700-sf private event space and California’s highest waterfront venue, is set to debut this fall. Originally built and utilized as a private residence, Bayview features an expansive balcony boasting panoramic views of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, Point Loma and the city skyline. Bayview will be able to accommodate groups of up to 150 for a reception and 90 people for dinner. The Manchester offers more than 125,000 sf of function space, and now features a 450 Mbps wireless network, “eight-hour banquet chairs” with flex backs, meeting planner offices in proximity to the meeting space, LED lights in the meeting space, an improved wayfinding system and more.

A highlight of San Diego’s fine dining scene is the Addison at the 249-room Grand Del Mar resort, Southern California’s only five-star, five-diamond restaurant. This summer, the Addison’s award-winning chef, William Bradley, began serving as culinary director of the new Bijou French Bistro in La Jolla. The European-style eatery encompasses 10,000 sf and features a private dining room. Of course, fine dining is only the beginning of what delegates can enjoy in San Diego, a city also known for several major museums, including the Natural History Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and the USS Midway Museum.

San Francisco

Some nationally or globally based association groups may require the airlift of a major hub like San Francisco International Airport, which offers nonstop flights to more than 34 international cities on 29 international carriers. The Bay Area’s largest airport connects non-stop with 78 cities in the U.S. on 15 domestic airlines.

While the airport and the first-tier city it serves are quite familiar to many association meeting planners, San Francisco is offering some new special-event venues to consider. In August, the Village, a 17,000-sf event venue with more than 1,300 person capacity spread over three floors, opened on Market Street. In September, the transformed Presidio Officers’ Club, the city’s most historic building, reopens after a transformation. Its 2,955-sf Ortega Ballroom will feature expansive San Francisco Bay views. And in October, the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal will offer groups more than 60,000 sf of shared-use space on non-cruise days.

The most significant development in San Francisco’s meetings industry is without question The Moscone Center Expansion and Improvement Project. This summer, officials announced that the $500 million project is on schedule and on budget, after more than a year of community outreach and review. The plan will create more than 500,000 sf of contiguous exhibition space; replace 25,000 sf of surface parking, exit ways, ramps, etc., with pedestrian-friendly space; and add more than 8,000 sf of open public space. Construction is expected to begin in December 2014 and be completed by the fall of 2018.

“Without this expansion, $2 billion in economic activity will be lost between now and 2020,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.


The Sacramento-based Association of California Water Agencies has gathered its delegates in Monterey for the last 30 years. Holding spring and fall conferences for directors and employees of water agencies, the ACWA meets in other California cities as well, including Sacramento as an alternate for its spring conference. But in Monterey the ACWA held an offsite event that captured what many see as the essence of California, as part of the association’s 100th year anniversary celebration in 2010. Hosted by Monterey Beach Party at the company’s 5,000-sf Del Monte Beach House, ACWA delegates enjoyed a “classic California beach party” complete with deejay and fire pits. Such an event also would be an ideal choice for out-of-state delegates whom a planner wishes to immerse in beach culture.

For its May conference this year, the ACWA partnered with the Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay, a 379-room, nautically inspired property that houses more than 50,000 sf of indoor meeting space and nearly 60,000 sf of outdoor event space, as well as the 319-room Monterey Marriott, offering 56,000 sf of meeting space. The Hotel Pacific, a nearby boutique property, was used for overflow, given the ACWA’s total attendance of nearly 1,800. The Portola is connected to the Monterey Conference Center, which offers 41,000 sf of meeting and banquet space. “The three properties that we used worked really well together,” notes Paula Currie, ACWA director of member services and events. “The conference center is connected to the Portola, and the Marriott is directly across the street over a walking bridge, which makes it really convenient.” The group uses the conference center for its exhibition. “The hall is located very close to our registration area. And that makes for a really good flow for getting people into the hall, which is really important to our exhibitors. When you have a hall that’s in another building or on another floor, it makes the traffic a little less.”

Monterey itself is “a beautiful city by the ocean that is really attractive for our attendees,” says Currie, adding that the group enjoys nearby Pacific Grove, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pebble Beach. ACWA also has held a dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium offers several venues for rental: the Open Sea Galleries (accommodating 300 reception, 120 seated), the Ocean’s Edge Galleries (300, 80) and Cindy’s Waterfront Restaurant (150, 50). The entire aquarium, which accommodates 2,500 attendees, can also be rented.

San Jose

San Jose has already seen ROI from the newly renovated and expanded San Jose McEnery Convention Center, welcoming new groups that required the additional space. The $130 million project, completed last October, added 169,000 sf of flexible ballroom and meeting space, bringing the new grand total to 550,000 sf. More recently, free Wi-Fi was installed throughout the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, extending the city’s popular Wickedly Fast, Free Wi-Fi already offered at the Mineta San Jose International Airport and within downtown San Jose. “With new technology infrastructure created by leading Silicon Valley technology companies, we are offering a world-class technology experience,” says Karolyn Kirchgesler, chief executive officer for Team San Jose. “Convention attendees can stream video, stay connected and keep up to date on all of their devices and do so for free.”

As the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” San Jose is a natural location for the Tech Museum of Innovation, where planners can hold private events. Other options include the San Jose Museum of Art, with spaces available for 100 to 3,000 guests, and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum of Art & Planetarium. And Napa Valley is about a 1½-hour drive away.


Following what appears to be a trend in California’s convention centers, the Anaheim City Council recently approved a 200,000-sf expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center. The $180 million project will create a state-of-the-art multipurpose, flexible meeting and exhibit space connected to the existing facility by a climate-controlled pedestrian bridge. The project is expected to be completed by fall of 2016.

Citywide conventions slated for Anaheim will benefit from five new hotel developments underway in the Anaheim Resort District: Two SpringHill Suites (172 rooms and 120 rooms, respectively), and the 178-room Hyatt Place Anaheim Resort all opened this summer. In addition, the 262-room Hyatt House Anaheim Resort is set to open in early 2015, and a 215-room Homewood Suites by Hilton-Anaheim Main Gate Area hotel is expected to open late 2015.

The West Coast’s answer to Orlando, Anaheim is a popular choice for groups traveling with children, and its world-class theme parks always have new experiences in store. For example, this year Universal Studios Hollywood is introducing “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem,” a 3-D Ultra-HD movie motion-simulator adventure. And Disneyland Resort’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, originally opened in 1979, reopened this March with various enhancements, including a restored historic Rainbow Ridge Mining Town.

Los Angeles

The tourism and meetings industry is thriving in Los Angeles, which saw record hotel occupancy of 76.8 percent last year. This year, 28 citywide conventions are booked into the Los Angeles Convention Center, and future convention groups will enjoy $10 million in upgrades at the facility. Scheduled for completion next August, the project includes the installation of a new, energy efficient solar-ready “cool roof” on the South Hall and Concourse Hall; new carpeting throughout the center; parking system improvements; a remodeling of the 299-seat Theater; and upgraded air walls, IT infrastructure, lighting systems and numerous operating systems. The future also may bring a 1,000-room hotel directly connected to the convention center. City officials behind the proposal argue that 4,000 more rooms are needed within walking distance of the venue to help the convention center book bigger and more lucrative events.

While Los Angeles is a dense urban center — the most populous city in California and second most populous in the country — meeting groups still can take advantage of the state’s balmy weather by convening outdoors. Among the options for special events is the 12-acre Grand Park in the heart of downtown, as well as numerous venues in neighboring areas. Examples include the Bel-Air Bay Club, with views of Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific; the 160-acre Descanso Gardens, featuring the scenic Rose Pavilion; the 206-acre grounds of the Huntington Library in San Marino; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley; and the Taglyan Cultural Complex, with 20,000 sf of modern meeting space.


Billing itself as the “affordable alternative” to Los Angeles and Orange County, Greater Ontario is accessible via three international airports and less than 30 minutes away from downtown Los Angeles and Anaheim. Within Ontario, the logistical conveniences continue. More than half of the city’s 6,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the Ontario Convention Center, which offers more than 225,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including a 70,000-sf, column-free exhibit hall, a 20,000-sf sectional ballroom and 24,000 sf of meeting rooms. Recent upgrades to the facility include a new solar roof, energy-efficient ballroom lighting and an in-house Starbucks (to be constructed).

Delegates who want a breath of fresh air between sessions will soon be able to enjoy the new, $6.9 million Ontario Town Square Park, opening on two acres in the historic downtown area. The park includes an open-air amphitheater (seating up to 1,000), a rose garden for small gatherings, a courtyard with benches and free Wi-Fi. Ontario is also home to California’s largest value retail shopping destination, Ontario Mills. And participants can explore several fascinating nearby regions, such as Norco horse country and the vineyards of Temecula Valley to the south, and the high desert communities of Apple Valley and Victorville to the north, where the California Route 66 Museum can be found.

Long Beach

In April, The Sulphur Institute, a Washington, DC-based organization held its Sulphur World Symposium in Long Beach for the first time. Nearly 200 delegates of the trade association met at the newly renovated Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. The 374-room property offers 21,000 sf of meeting space and a central location that is “close to restaurants and shops. Our attendees really liked being in the middle of the action,” notes Stephanie Santini, manager, meetings, member relations and office services. Southern California’s weather in the spring was “enticing” for the global audience (particularly those from colder climates), she says, and Long Beach is “walkable and safe. Those are among the things I look for as a meeting planner and also what our attendees look for in a destination.” Santini personally found the Long Beach Airport “very easy to navigate, but given that our audience is global many needed to fly into LAX. And for the most part people didn’t find (the commute) difficult; it’s only about 25 miles.”

The Sulphur Institute hosted both onsite and offsite networking events, including a “cultural tour” to Catalina Island. “As a planner I found it quite easy to orchestrate. We took attendees down to the Catalina Express boat dock and after arriving on the island they enjoyed an hour-long tour of Catalina followed by free time to enjoy the island. It was a great networking opportunity,” says Santini. She also extols the services of the Long Beach CVB, which “really went above and beyond. From initial contact through the execution of our event and to post-event follow-up, they were there. They actually showed up onsite on the first day of our conference just to make sure everything was set, that they didn’t need to intervene or offer any assistance with the vendors we were working with.”

The Long Beach CVB  “really went above and beyond. From initial contact through the execution of our event and to post-event follow-up, they were there.” — Stephanie Santini

Newport Beach

Located an hour away from Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively, Newport Beach offers groups a serene coastal environment with nine unique villages, a renowned yacht harbor, a nature preserve and world-class golf courses. Surfing, canoeing, paddleboard, hiking, Segway tours and other activities can easily fill up attendees’ free time. Planners can arrange a Hornblower cruise for a memorable change of scene from one of Newport Beach’s upscale hotels, such as the 110-acre Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina, which offers 50,000 sf of meeting space.

Two of the city’s major resorts, Island Hotel Newport Beach and Balboa Bay Resort, have recently improved their facilities. A redesigned pool space and private dining at the new Oak Room are now available at the Island Hotel, which houses 300 guest rooms and 23,000 sf of meeting space. The four-diamond property also is refurbishing its guest rooms and redesigning its fitness center. This March, the Balboa Bay Resort, 18,200 sf of meeting space, debuted the Waterline Newport Beach, featuring a “water to table” dining experience. In addition, the 159-room resort has revamped its lobby with coastal-inspired décor and more natural lighting. AC&F

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