Today’s modern meetings scene is an integral sum of its multiple parts — adequate meeting space, easily accessible location, beckoning city sights and the convention center — always the convention center.
So from “America’s Finest City” and its San Diego Convention Center to the nation’s powerhouse Chicago’s McCormick Place, planners have a bountiful table from which to choose when crisscrossing the country in search of the best match for their association and the biggest bang for their buck.
“Every planner looks for a package — local draws like the beach and the water, great hotels with good rates, easy transportation getting in and out of a city, a good facility in which to hold the convention or meeting, and walkability (proximity of the convention center to downtown and the hotels). San Diego has all the parts of this package,” says Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, CFE, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Corporation.
“Working at McCormick Place can be surprising if a planner is not used to working in a union facility. My advice is to work closely with your general contractor and convention center event manager to make sure you understand the rules and regulations in advance.”
— Stephanie D. Jones, CMP
Ron Olejko, senior director, meeting services, Atlanta, Georgia-based American College of Rheumatology, agrees with Rippetoe’s assessment of San Diego and has paired his association with the city again and again and again (1998, 2005, 2013 with upcoming commitments in 2017 and 2023).
Typically rotating the annual meeting of approximately 16,500 among this Southern California city and Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Orlando and periodically New Orleans, Olejko’s reasoning is simple. “It’s the location. Our annual meeting is held between mid-October and mid-November when San Diego’s weather is generally beautiful. When you’re walking from the convention center to your hotel, it’s almost like you’re in a resort. It’s a city but you see so much water, you feel as if you’re in a relaxed resort.”
An additional perk, but of no less importance to this planner is the city’s union work ethic. “Their reputation is one of the best (if not the best) in the industry. They know how important we are to their livelihood, and we know how important they are to the success of our meeting. It makes for a great two-way partnership.”
Showcasing San Diego’s one-of-a-kind sites, Olejko is hosting the association Presidents’ Reception (an invitation-only, luxury-end event for 500), during its November 3–8, 2017, meeting on the aircraft carrier USS Midway Museum. “I always take advantage of what a city offers,” he explains.
From the convention center perspective, Rippetoe cites his city’s exclusive-to-San Diego attractions — from a vibrant art scene to a world-famous 100-year-old zoo. “All of this helps sell San Diego as a gathering place.” Evidence is supported by the SDCC’s impressive stats: 70 percent rotation rate, 74 percent occupancy rate and bookings as far out as summer 2035.
Any downside to San Diego’s meetings scene? From a planner’s point of view whose group has expanded from 2,500 in 1980 to 17,000 today, Olejko weighs in. “Of course, we think the SDCC is too small. Medical meeting planners are space hogs,” explains the senior director of meeting services whose growing group returns again in 2023 to San Diego’s convention center, which is currently addressing expansion.
When it’s about size, it’s about the big three — Orlando, Las Vegas and Chicago. Chicago’s McCormick Place is comprised of four state-of-the-art buildings, a combined total of 2.6 million sf of exhibit space (1.2 million sf on one level) and 173 meeting rooms (600,000 sf of flexible space) — the result is North America’s largest convention center. Its culinary coup is the Midwest’s largest farm-to-fork rooftop garden, which sprawls atop McCormick Place West and provides an annual 10,000 pounds of herbs and vegetables for use in the center’s restaurants. When coupled with Midwestern hospitality, McCormick Place’s 2016 results tell the tale: 2.5 million visitors, 193 events and 31 major meetings and conventions.
Lori Healey, CEO, Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority (the owner and manager of McCormick Place), explains the popularity of the Chicago complex: “We are constantly improving the flexibility of our meeting-space assets to meet the demand for better technology, comfortable and appealing spaces and unique elements such as pop-up restaurants and even making our own beer, McCormick Place Every Day Ale (produced with hops from the rooftop garden).”
However, as this is not a facility satisfied with the status quo, McCormick’s campus continues to transform. Scheduled for completion this year is a 10,387-seat facility that will host general sessions for large trade shows, as well as serve as DePaul University’s basketball arena. Linked by a skybridge to McCormick Place West is the planned Marriott Marquis (1,205 rooms). Further improving its appeal to the meeting planner is the full renovation of onsite Hyatt Regency McCormick Place’s 25,000-sf conference center.
Competing in the union arena, Choose Chicago announced the results of a recent labor agreement: “The restoration of exhibitor rights at McCormick Place, without any future threat, ensures that our customers will not only realize significant savings, but also prosper as a result of exhibitors returning to customers’ shows in full force.”
Bigger is better for Stephanie D. Jones, CMP, senior director, conferences and events management with the Alexandria, Virginia-based Water Environment Federation. “With WEFTEC (Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition & Conference) being the biggest meeting of its kind in North America, we are limited to few U.S. facilities that can accommodate the size of our trade show. Our exhibitors prefer contiguous exhibit space and McCormick Place offers us this,” says the planner.
A group of approximately 25,000 water quality professionals from around the world, WEFTEC meets in Chicago every other year. The federation’s upcoming September 30–October 4, 2017, conference at McCormick Place North and South uses 27 hotels throughout the city with Hilton Chicago as the headquarters.
Why Chicago and McCormick Place? “The support that we receive from the city is a major bonus. I firmly believe that for a citywide conference to be successful, there needs to be a partnership between show management and the city,” says Jones. Giving a special shout-out to Choose Chicago, she mentions its assistance in marketing WEFTEC, making introductions to relevant business partners and recommending great venues for VIP events.
As 95 percent of the association’s time is spent at McCormick Place, the center’s “green” program is key for this group whose policy is to use hotels and convention centers that have in-house energy and water recycling and conservation programs. The environmentally conscious association’s general guidelines: caterers use reusable serving items (plates, utensils, napkins) when appropriate or compostable paper products, serve condiments in bulk containers versus individual packages and donate wrapped leftover food to local shelters.
Jones’ final suggestion is a recommendation for planners new to Chicago’s convention center scene. “Working at McCormick Place can be surprising if a planner is not used to working in a union facility. My advice is to work closely with your general contractor and convention center event manager to make sure you understand the rules and regulations in advance.” Additional guidance: Be sure to use the McCormick Place meeting planners’ guide.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 12, 2017, the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) has over the years played host to presidential candidates, a professional basketball team, such musical luminaries as Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley — and conventions.
Among its conventions is the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress & Expo held October 15–21, 2016. As the country’s largest annual safety, health and environmental show, it attracts more than 15,000 safety professionals from the U.S., Canada and 60-plus additional countries. In keeping with ACC’s high-profile past, its opening session speaker was football legend Terry Bradshaw.
“We chose Anaheim based on the center’s size, the number of potential safety and health professionals within driving distance and the number of affordable hotels within walking distance — allowing us to contain our shuttle costs,” says Nancy Gavin, operations director at NSC, which is based in Itasca, Illinois.
Budget and safety are additional factors. The show rotates around the United States and hadn’t been in Anaheim for eight years. “Misty Brewer, our event manager, gave great advice with respect to budgeting and guiding us to things unique to the convention center. And she pulled together the right people to discuss potential security concerns,” shares the planner.
Working with the center, GES and exhibitors, the association implemented a waste diversion program (results: 99,638 pounds of total waste were gathered, and 38.9 percent of total show waste was diverted from a landfill).
Gavin details the association’s history with Anaheim, beginning with 2005 when NSC committed to holding their annual event in Anaheim for two years. “We were looking for another West Coast city and were impressed with the convention center’s new design, new hotels coming onboard within walking distance to the center and the expansion of the GardenWalk entertainment district. Our first show was in 2008, and in 2016 we saw a much-improved offering for our exhibitors and attendees.”
The future of the ACC’s next 50 years looks equally bright shares Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim. “In just a few short months, we will be debuting our much-anticipated Anaheim Convention Center expansion and joining the ‘one-million-square-foot club.’ We undertook this seventh expansion of the ACC because we understood the importance of providing a blank canvas that can be reinvented for every new group coming into Anaheim and using the Anaheim Convention Center,” says the executive who has played a key role in the ACC’s soon-to-be debuted expansion. With a completion date of fall 2017, the additional 200,000 sf of flexible meeting and event space vaults the ACC into the enviable position as the West Coast’s largest convention center.
Keeping pace with the convention center’s growth, trajectory of the Anaheim Resort district continues upward with seven brand hotels planned for Anaheim and in neighboring Garden Grove, adding 2,287 rooms by 2019 — including several four-diamond properties.
A continued tour of the country’s meetings scene reveals an assortment of convention centers for an assortment of needs, with two constants apparent in all — expansion and expenditure.
Coming to the Atlantic City Convention Center via his role at the Owensboro Convention Center in Kentucky, Dean Dennis makes his entrance as the center’s new general manager. Atlantic City’s across-the-board additions — from a culinary scene that features restaurants of such top chefs as Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsay to a substantial conference center investment by several casinos — underscore the city’s commitment to increasing its convention center traffic. Casinos’ past and in-the-immediate-future development include the $125 million Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah’s Resort, Resorts Casino Hotel’s $5 million expenditure on its 15,000-sf convention space and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s $11 million Central Conference Center (to open May 2017). Of additional interest is the Hard Rock International purchase of the Taj Mahal, which is expected to open in the spring of 2018.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (L.A. Tourism) President and CEO Ernest Wooden Jr. announced Los Angeles welcomed 47.3 million visitors in 2016, breaking visitation records for the sixth consecutive year. The new record is 1.7 million visitors higher than 2015’s total. “Tourism is booming in Los Angeles, and it’s helping to drive our whole city’s economy forward,” said Garcetti. “My goal is to welcome 50 million tourists to our city by 2020.”
In other news, L.A. Tourism launched Virtual Discovery L.A., a new virtual reality travel platform that provides meeting professionals with immersive 360-degree viewing experiences of more than 50 only-in-L.A. venues and locations across Los Angeles — the most comprehensive virtual tour of any destination in the world.
Looking ahead, Oklahoma City has announced that after a seven-year effort, approval has been obtained for a new $288 million downtown Oklahoma City Convention Center. Opening in 2020, the three-level center will be located on the south end of the city’s downtown district and adjacent to the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It will feature 200,000 sf of exhibit space, 45,000 sf of meeting space with 27 meeting rooms and a 30,000-plus-sf ballroom.
“The vision of Moscone Center’s expansion becomes more of a reality every day. This has always been one of the most sought-after meeting venues in the country but with the additional space and amenities, it’s going to be irresistible to planners and attendees,” says Joe D’Alessandro, San Francisco Travel president and CEO.
Included in the $500 million expansion — scheduled for completion in late 2018 — Moscone North and South will offer more than 500,000 sf of contiguous space that can be used for exhibitions and meetings (almost double the space currently offered in its largest hall), a 50,000-sf column-free ballroom, more than 80 meeting rooms, 107,000 sf of light-filled prefunction lobbies framing city views and more than 20,000 sf of outdoor terraces. Designed to garner the highest LEED certification, the facility will feature less carbon emissions per delegate than any major convention center in North America, annual recovery of 15 million gallons of groundwater for reuse in the center and surrounding parks, San Francisco’s largest rooftop photovoltaic solar panel and zero-emissions electricity. Though Moscone North and South will be closed April to September 7, 2017, West will remain open and is fully booked.
If seeking “expansion” with a capital “E,” look no further than the $1.4 billion enlargement and renovation of the 57-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center, scheduled to be completed in four phases. Currently underway, phase one is the acquisition and demolition of the Riviera, adding more than 26 acres to the LVCC campus (including a border on Las Vegas Boulevard). Phase two creates approximately 600,000 sf of exhibition space (note: the total size of the new building will be approximately 1.4 million sf). Phase three involves the renovation of the existing 3.2-million-sf facility, and phase four deals with future improvements (its schedule based on the completion of phases two and three) — its budget is to be determined.
Undergoing a $615 million renovation and expansion, the Miami Beach Convention Center will unveil to the meeting planning community the results in 2018. Inclusions within the new 1.4-million-sf LEED-certified facility are a state-of-the-art 60,000-sf grand ballroom, additional meeting rooms with flexible arrangements, a 20,000-sf glass rooftop junior ballroom, 81 meeting rooms comprised of 190,000 sf and new-to-the-scene versatile indoor/outdoor public spaces. Though the first phase of the renovation began in December 2015, the center has continued to operate within half of the building (with exception of a complete closure from December 2016 to May 2017).
Matt Hollander, Spectra Venue Management’s general manager at the Miami Beach Convention Center, succinctly summates the center’s expansion, closure and reveal: “During this time, we have seen a sharp trend of new interest and new bookings for future years.”
In San Jose, California, the City National Civic Courtyard and Montgomery Courtyard have been recently renovated into the perfect outdoor setting for all types of events. This picturesque location includes newly built custom benches, gas inline heaters, outdoor lighting and a fire pit perfect for blissful evenings. The entire courtyard has been wired with sound and can be split into two courtyards or used as one with movable rustic gates. In the future, the courtyard will feature live video feed of the theater’s interiors. The picturesque location is ideal for all outdoor events. It has a total of 5,407 sf and can fit up to 1,081 people.
Wanna be in the movies? The Ontario Convention Center in California is frequently used by filmmakers as an onsite location for movies and commercials. The contemporary venue is equipped with the latest in technology and boasts more than 225,000 sf of flexible exhibit, meeting and function space. The center provides a full range of technology services including Wi-Fi, internet, DS3 and videoconferencing capabilities.
The award-winning culinary team creates signature and custom-made menus featuring an eclectic range of international, regional and heart-healthy fare, which is prepared with the freshest ingredients, premium meats and seafood, as well as produce from local farms and growers.
The New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority, the governing board of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, has approved a resolution to begin construction on a linear park along Convention Center Boulevard. The Linear Park Construction Project is part of a comprehensive plan, known as The Convention Center District Development Project that will revitalize an important part of the city through new development on a 47-acre tract around Convention Center Boulevard.
In addition to the linear park, key elements of the project include a world-class anchor hotel, improved walkability, lighting and streetscaping, new premier retail shopping options, residential living, fine dining and casual restaurants and entertainment, and cultural and arts venues.
Bottom line for the future of the nation’s convention centers: It’s bigger and better than ever. AC&F