Cities across the country are expanding and updating their convention facilities with a goal of increasing convention and meeting business and staying competitive in this ever-evolving industry. Here are highlights of what planners can expect now and in the future.
Linda Edwards executive director, sales/marketing and business development, at Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) and Kentucky Exposition Center, is justifiably proud of the expanded center, which reopened last year after a $207 million-dollar expansion and update.
“The newly renovated convention center boasts 200,000 sf of contiguous Class A exhibit space, a 40,000-sf ballroom with LED color-changing walls and over 50 reimagined meeting rooms. With an 80,000-sf glass curtain encompassing the building,” she notes, “KICC is filled with natural light and truly brings the outdoors in. Even in the lower concourse, 10-ft ceilings bring a bright, airy environment to convention-goers. Centrally located in downtown Louisville, KICC is a top-tier convention center and business hub.”
Denise Cutler, CMM, director of meetings and executive support for the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA), booked an event at KICC in February with 4,274 attending. She had not previously used the center because it was too small for the show, however, with the renovations, she says the 200,000 sf of contiguous space was one of the deciding factors to booking there, but not the only one. “Our show includes various meetings and education courses, so we were also happy that the plans included ample meeting rooms and a large ballroom,” Cutler says.
The city itself is also a big draw, she adds. “The geographical location of Louisville is drivable for 80 percent of our members, making it affordable to attend the show. The accessibility to hotels is another plus since a shuttle does not need to be provided.”
Additionally, she says, “The center is very open and has modern amenities. Who doesn’t like a shiny new penny?”
Cutler and her team made the first site visit the week before the center closed for renovation. “We made the decision to contract by looking at the renderings and plans provided by the center. Louisville Tourism was passionate about the project and their enthusiasm encouraged us to give Louisville a chance. We didn’t see the finished project until six months before our event and we were thrilled with the results.”
Here are her tips for planners booking the new center:
San Francisco’s Moscone Center celebrated its $551 million expansion earlier this year. The center now offers 504,914 sf of contiguous space — more than 244,000 sf bigger than before the expansion. An additional 157,000 sf was added to the front of the North and South buildings, and 350,000 sf to the back, including freight access and an expanded kitchen in the same buildings. A new 49,776-sf, column-free ballroom and terraces provide city views, while 107,000 sf of airy pre-function space offers views of the city and surrounding Yerba Buena Gardens.
In all there are now 114 meeting rooms and 1,139,775 sf of usable space across the center’s three buildings. Planners and attendees will benefit from the upgraded wireless system, which now allows as many as 60,000 devices at once, as well as added HD screens and LED displays.
At the launch ceremony, Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, said, “It is important that San Francisco stay competitive with expanded and upgraded convention facilities. This project has achieved that.”
He also pointed to the center’s sustainability. “The facility will be LEED Platinum certified, making it the only convention center in the nation to achieve such levels of environmental sustainability,” he says. “Twenty percent of its power comes from solar energy, and the building’s drainage system will be able to correct and recycle over 15 million gallons of water annually.”
A $260 million expansion at Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) has plenty of highlights to catch planners’ attention: nearly 500,000 sf of flexible exhibition space, a new Grand Ballroom — the largest in south Florida at 60,000 sf — four junior ballrooms, one with a glass curtain and sweeping park views, 84 meeting rooms and 9 acres of surrounding green space. Additionally, a 10,000-sf, full-size production kitchen with pastry shop has been added and will be managed by Centerplate. The goal is to elevate F&B at MBCC to reflect the diverse culinary culture of the region.
The 1.4 million-sf facility will showcase more than $7 million in public art, as well as 1,610 miles of fiber optic cabling and 480 miles of copper wiring to support all IT communications and redundancy in data transfer. Common areas and meeting rooms all have free Wi-Fi.
More good news came for planners and groups last year, when residents of Miami Beach voted to approve the leasing of public land for a privately funded convention center headquarter hotel, which will be connected to MBCC. The future hotel is slated to have 800 guest rooms.
In recent years, the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB) in Houston completed a major renovation, along with the complete reimagining of the area surrounding it, creating a convention campus with multiple options for groups of all sizes. The expansive complex was renamed Avenida Houston, and it includes parks, two convention headquarter hotels, dining, retail and entertainment venues.
In November, The Rustic opened at Avenida Houston, becoming the city’s largest music venue. In addition to live music, The Rustic offers food and an appealing venue for private events. Also in the last year, the George R. Brown Convention Center kicked off a new sustainable farm project in partnership with Levy catering. There are now four honeybee colonies onsite. The plan is to incorporate the honey from the hives into dishes prepared at the center, and to use the beeswax to produce such products as GRB lip balm.
Additional changes are ongoing across the city. Among them is renovation at the city’s famed NRG Astrodome, slated for 2020 completion. Then there’s TMC3, of interest to medical and scientific associations and societies. The project is centered around an expansive helix-shaped building, a collaborative effort between Texas Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center, University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The building will be capped with an elevated park featuring gardens and trails, similar to New York’s High Line. A 19-story hotel with 410 rooms and 50,000 sf of conference space is also slated for the project, which could wrap as early as 2022. The goal is to make Houston an international hub for biomedical innovations.
Although Pat Hastings, director of Meeting Activities for the Materials Research Society (MRS) had a long relationship with convention staff in Seattle, MRS had never booked a meeting there. The new Summit building at the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), set to open in 2022, changed that.
“We were very excited to hear about the expansion. We’ve been talking to Seattle for probably 10 years,” Hastings says. “We can fit into the existing Arch building but it’s not ideal. We really like the city of Seattle. I’ve been keeping my eye on it for a long time.”
The MRS Spring meeting, drawing approximately 5,000 attendees, is booked at WSCC in 2021 prior to completion of the new building, and in 2024 and 2025.
“We’re a meeting of interdisciplinary materials researchers and we’re very breakout intensive,” Hastings says. “We have maybe 120 exhibitors but it’s the breakouts that take up most of our meeting. People need to go room to room to ‘browse and graze’ the meeting space. Being under one roof with a really easy flow is important to us.”
Of the new facility she says, “Having this light, airy campus kind of feel is ideal for us. There’s a lot of breakout space, ballrooms and exhibit space and it’s on two levels so you have flexibility in how to structure the meeting.”
MRS meetings have tech talks going on every 15 minutes in some 60 or more breakout rooms. Additionally, there are “poster sessions” in larger spaces, where 500-600 scientists stand by posters displaying their research graphically as attendees stroll by.
“You can have Nobel Laureates and top researchers in a particular field walking around and mingling with students and other attendees,” Hastings says. “It’s a very vibrant session, very important to us. The new Summit building is set up well for this. People come and go and we could have 2,000 people in the room at any given time. The networking that goes on is incredible.”
Hastings also points to the new Hyatt Regency Seattle, which opened near the WSCC in December with 1,260 guest rooms, as a significant factor. It joins the recently renovated Sheraton Grand Seattle, with 1,236 guest rooms.
While the current Arch building isn’t ideal for MRS, Hastings looks at 2021 as a “get to know you” year. The biggest concern, she notes, is that the 2021 attendees will look over at the nearly complete Summit building and wonder why the meeting isn’t there. “But that’s a good way to get attendees excited about the new building for the later meetings,” she says. “And we’ll arrange VIP tours at the new building during the 2021 meeting, which should excite attendees.”
The bottom line, according to Hastings, is that Seattle is offering the whole package. “Our international attendees want a vibrant, first-tier city. Seattle checks all those boxes — great airlift, dining, shopping and a technological hub. Now there will be an ideal building and hotels with this campus feel that will be right for us.”
Hastings notes that Seattle makes sense in another way, too. “Seattle is at the forefront of sustainability and that meshes with us. Sustainable materials is one of our important research areas so it’s a perfect fit. We’re at the cutting edge in science and Seattle is at the cutting edge in tech and sustainability.”
As for the Visit Seattle CVB, Hastings says, “The Seattle convention people take time to learn about your meeting and they’re really good people. They know the building and city so they know how to help me present it all in the best possible way. They understand our meeting and the flow and they want to understand us so they can help us. You don’t get that in a lot of cities. You just don’t.”
“Ultimately, we are striving to be a model of sustainable practices for the exhibition industry, buildings across New York City and the surrounding community,” according to a news release from New York’s Jacob J. Javits Convention Center about its recent expansion news update. “We are working with several institutions to study the impact of our conservation efforts while introducing new elements that we believe will have a maximum impact on the environment.”
The Javits Center is already LEED Silver certified thanks to expansion elements already completed. The nearly 7-acre green roof is one of the largest of its kind in the country. Three honeybee hives were installed on the green roof, which now produce honey for center food outlets. A 1-acre working farm to come will produce 40,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for convention meals annually. The roof is also habitat for 27 bird species and five bat species.
Expected to be completed in 2021, the massive project will add 1.2 million sf to the north end of the campus, bringing the center’s total event space to 3.3 million sf. A 53,000-sf special event space accommodating up to 5,000 guests is being constructed with views of the Hudson River, and there will be 500,000 sf of contiguous space on the Level 3 show floor. Other expansion highlights include 113,000 sf of pre-function space, a rooftop pavilion accommodating up to 1,500 attendees, 27 new loading docks and 107,000 sf of new meeting room space.
In September, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) board of directors took the final step to begin construction on the Las Vegas Convention Center District’s Phase 2 expansion, slated to wrap in 2021 in time for CES.
“We’ve been the No. 1 trade show destination in North America for 24 consecutive years, but we must continue to be innovative and upgrade our offerings if we’re going to maintain that top spot,” says Steve Hill, the LVCVA’s CEO and president. “This expansion and renovation is our commitment to our clients and our community to foster growth and continue to deliver the excellent service and amenities that have made Las Vegas the world’s premier destination.”
Phase 2 will add 1.4 million sf to the current facility, including at least 600,000 sf of new exhibit space and a grand atrium. Phase 3, scheduled to wrap in 2023, will be a complete renovation of the existing 3.2 million-sf facility. With this phased approach, no business will be displaced during construction and renovation.
Denver voters approved an expansion of Colorado Convention Center several years ago and the design phase is well underway. Highlights of the project include 100,000+ sf of new pre-function and service space, which will include a 50,000-sf outdoor terrace on the roof of the existing facility, all with unobstructed views of the Rocky Mountains. Also planned is the development of new flexible meeting and ballroom space of up to 80,000 sf. Not surprising, technology will figure into the mix, including increased capacity for Wi-Fi and video streaming.
The center currently has 63 learning rooms, a 14-acre exhibit hall, one of the state’s largest ballrooms and a 5,000-seat theater. Colorado Convention Center is also LEED Gold certified. Among its sustainable efforts is the onsite Blue Bear Farm, which provides thousands of pounds of produce for Centerplate’s in-house catering operation.
In New Orleans, the Convention Center District Development is a massive project. The $557 million, five-year modernization is aimed at upgrading the convention center and area around it. One element recently “topped out” is a portion of the $65 million reimagining of Convention Center Boulevard, which will connect the Warehouse/Arts District with the Central Business District and historic French Quarter and provide new outdoor attractions for attendees and residents alike. Also underway is a 1,200-room Omni hotel connected to the center, which will be surrounded by a 39-acre mixed-use project. The first part of the project is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2020.
In October last year, officials of the city and county of St. Louis, announced the “AC Next Gen Project” to improve the America’s Center Convention Complex. As cities across the country make large investments in their convention centers, officials in St. Louis saw the time is now to do the same. Originally built in 1977, America’s Center is in need of modernization. The estimate for the project is approximately $175 million and will include an additional 92,000 sf of exhibit space, a 65,000-sf multipurpose ballroom and meeting area with 20,000 sf of pre-function space. It will also include 22,000 sf of new support space, the construction of 26 new loading docks as well as renovation of the existing 12 docks. An outdoor pavilion to serve the needs not only of meeting attendees but of St. Louis residents as well is also planned. Explore St. Louis, the city’s CVB, is continuing to work with local officials as legislation passed in April to move the project forward.
City officials say Los Angeles loses $1 billion annually in business because the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) is too small and outdated. Now there’s a proposal from the operator of the center for a $1.2 billion expansion. About $500 million would go to adding as much as 350,000 sf, which would give LACC 1.2 million sf of space, including 250,000 sf meeting rooms. That addition would result in about 800,000 sf of contiguous exhibition space.
Approximately $700 million of the proposal would be devoted to the addition of a 40-story tower at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE on Olympic Boulevard. The 850-room tower would be connected via pedestrian bridge to the existing JW Marriott and the West Hall of LACC. The hotel project would also add more meeting space, including a 51,000-sf ballroom. The hope is that construction can be approved immediately and completed as soon as 2021.
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