Philadelphia has been making history for centuries, so it’s only fitting that this city of milestones—the birthplace of American democracy—set the stage for one of the most groundbreaking political confabs to date: the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which named the first female presidential nominee from a major political party, Hillary Clinton.
Meetings Today visited the city just before the big event in July to check out many of the major venues and exhibits and meet with some of the key players from the DNC, following up with several after the conclusion of the convention.
Hosting the DNC, which drew roughly 6,000 delegates, 20,000 media and 50,000 total convention participants, was no small feat. With plenty of pre-planning, public-private sector collaboration and grace under pressure, Philly fared quite well, according to most estimates.
“The DNC occupied over 97 hotels and brought an economic impact of $250 million to $300 million to the city,” said Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of the Philadelphia CVB. “The DNC really has a long-term effect on a city, so we will see everything from new residents to new business, including growth in meetings and conventions to Philadelphia given the flexibility of our city and how walkable it is.”
The DNC was a bit more challenging than most of the major events the city has hosted, Coker Graham added.
“We’re used to the center of a convention being at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, but with the DNC, the Wells Fargo Center was where the evening speeches were held, so we were managing two different spaces,” Coker Graham said.
Meanwhile, several DNC events and special exhibits were also held before and during the event, including two major welcome parties (see sidebar, page 28), not to mention countless other private gatherings; the Donkeys Around Town public art exhibit of 57 fiberglass donkeys, each painted by a local artist to represent a participating convention delegation; PoliticalFest, a nonpartisan exhibit at seven important sites throughout the city; and watch parties at public projection screens.
Wells Fargo Center, home to major sports events and music shows, hosted the evening speeches and concerts, including Alicia Keyes, Lady Gaga and Lenny Kravitz. With roughly 35,000 to 40,000 people per day coming through the venue and outside perimeter, including 600 staff members and consultants and 3,000 to 4,000 volunteers, Wells Fargo Center planning for the DNC began more than a year before the event.
Travis Dredd, deputy CEO, convention complex for the DNC Committee, oversaw all of the initiatives at Wells Fargo Center.
“It was a huge success,” Dredd said, adding that the 2016 DNC was the fifth DNC he has worked.
To manage and build out the Wells Fargo Center for the DNC, which included the stage, seating, wiring and a tented media pavilion, Dredd hired two executive producers, Ricky Kirshner and Vic Bulluck, and four other partners: Hargrove Incorporated, an event services firm, Perryman Building and Construction, and Populous and Ambit, two architecture and design firms.
“The Wells Fargo Center was ideal in terms of putting on a convention,” Dredd said. “Since they hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000, they had several technological upgrades, and the staff was big steps ahead in terms of planning.”
The 750,000-square-foot facility was the perfect size for a DNC, but to accommodate the buildout of the stage and other elements, Dredd said more than 2,000 seats had to be removed and replaced with an additional 2,000 independent seats. Meanwhile, 40 of the center’s club box suites were renovated to turn them into TV studios, and a 120,000-square-foot media pavilion was built outside.
“Then we ran 750 miles of cable and 125 miles of fiber, so it was pretty significant,” he said.
The 2016 DNC at Wells Fargo Center was the most technologically savvy and advanced of any DNC, according to Dredd.
“There were 310 televisions that we employed at the arena, we created over 300 wireless access points, and we bolstered the Wi-Fi inside the arena to make sure people were able to get their messages and photos out on social media,” he said. “We collaborated with Twitter and Snapchat, Instagram came out and set up a booth, and Facebook had a cafe there.”