Feature
Convention Centers / 2 years Ago

Convention Centers Are Making Bold New Statements

by Todd Raymond

  • Adelaide Convention Centre

    Adelaide Convention Centre

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2018/0118/CuttingEdge1.jpg

    Adelaide Convention Centre

    Adelaide Convention Centre
  • Anaheim Convention Center

    Anaheim Convention Center

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2018/0118/CuttingEdge2.jpg

    Anaheim Convention Center

    Anaheim Convention Center
  • The Cove, Long Beach convention and entertainment center

    The Cove, Long Beach convention and entertainment center

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2018/0118/CuttingEdge3.jpg

    The Cove, Long Beach convention and entertainment center

    The Cove, Long Beach convention and entertainment center

Goodbye big-box, bunkeresque venues. Hello green rooftop micro-environments, wellness spaces and hip street-party-scapes with food trucks and industrial-chic decor installed below outdoor overpasses. It’s as cool as it gets when it comes to today’s convention centers.  

We set out to discover how new and upgraded facilities are catering to the ever-evolving interests of the market and blazing new trails when it comes to architecture, design, technology and amenities. Here are four of the hottest convention centers on the planet nowadays.

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, Long Beach, Calif.

Once sitting in the shadow of longtime SoCal standbys like Los Angeles and San Diego, ever-vibrant Long Beach is basking in the limelight nowadays, especially when it comes to inimitable event experiences. Most recently, fireworks, a laser light show and Cirque du Soleil-style aerialists lit up the night for the December grand opening of the Rainbow Bridge, the third element of the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center’s dynamic, $60 million renovation.

The $10 million, 605-foot elevated pedestrian walkway is a bold artistic and architectural statement that enhances the image of the city and the experience for both locals and convention attendees alike, according to Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach CVB.

“It’s a pedestrian bridge and an art piece, so it’s a functional art piece,” he said.

When lit, the arched canopy reflects the contour of a wave, and the LEDs can be tailored to project unique scenes.

“When you have 3,500 LEDs each individually programmed, it creates a myriad of images, with lights dancing up and down and a cascading wave breaking or perhaps a ‘Starry Night’ Van Gogh scene. There are so many possibilities,” Goodling said, adding that the design of the overall bridge was modeled a bit after the High Line in New York City, with seating areas and landscaping that encourage attendees to pause, collaborate and enjoy city views.

The Rainbow Bridge and the other new features are based on cues taken from the designers of the TED conference, which was held in Long Beach for five years.

“The two key takeaways from TED were creating environments where people can collaborate and connect and creating special environments that really wow attendees,” Goodling said.

One of the center’s hippest new environments opened last summer: The Cove. Featuring an atmosphere of cool urban elegance, The Cove is set in the area below an overpass outside the center, and its highlights include liberal and creative use of the setting’s concrete pillars and ceilings, with crystal chandeliers, starfish and other marine motifs adorning the spaces overhead, while street murals bring new life to the setting. A local food truck scene, bars, picnic tables, sleek seating areas with fire pits and diversions like glow-in-the-dark table tennis are available to groups that choose to meet at the space.

“We’re seeing younger planners desiring very unique environments for attendees like Millennials, so we wanted to set new trends and make our venues turnkey experiences for groups, which means they don’t have to pay extra for things like lighting and rigging,” Goodling said. “We’ve already imagined these unique spaces for them.”

Goodling said The Cove has impressed so many attendees and planners, that one city’s CVB has already visited Long Beach to determine how to emulate the first-of-its-kind, turnkey convention center experience.

Another such reimagined space that has been turning heads is the center’s $10 million Pacific Ballroom. The 40,000-square-foot venue, which was unveiled in 2013 as the first part of the multiphase renovation, offers groups a New York City loft-style party setting.  

Next up: this summer’s debut of a $2 million Bellagio-style fountain in the center’s Terrace Theater Plaza that will offer a water show choreographed to sound and lights. The plaza, backdropped by its new fountain, will accommodate 5,000 bright-eyed guests for events.

It seems “dazzled” will continue to be the operative word used to describe attendees gathering in Long Beach.

Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide South Australia

The Adelaide Convention Centre (ACC) can now be seen from space. And based on the stellar reviews of Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), it appears the ACC has arrived at the latitude of other world-class convention facilities.

The facility recently hosted the IAF in its new $397 million redevelopment along the shores of the scenic River Torrens. Last September, 4,470 starry-eyed delegates from 71 nations and more than 1,000 students and volunteers touched down in Adelaide for what was to be the largest earthling gathering to date at the ACC, which now boasts more than 2.1 million square feet of multipurpose space in two new buildings.

Although the ACC may be impressive to view from the stars, the design is firmly rooted in South Australian historical topography. The West Building, which opened in 2015, was inspired by the stunning geological colors of the Flinders Ranges in the Outback, and the East Building, which was unveiled last August, reflects the weathered contours of the Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island, with an impressive “starry night” background that twinkles with 35,000 fiber-optic lights.

Once inside, the ACC has truly set the standard for the term “flexible space, with options such as tiered seating for 3,500, more than 32,000 square feet for exhibitions and banquets, and two rotating seating drums. Each drum can accommodate 320 people and be used as part of the Plenary Hall or rotated 180 degrees in minutes to form two individual theaters.

“The operational brief for our redevelopment was very precise—to create a new breed of convention center in terms of flexibility and innovation,” said Simon Burgess, general manager of the ACC. “We’re thrilled with the result.”

The Plenary Hall can be arranged into more than 15 different configurations.

In terms of earthly and environmental concerns, the ACC boasts a 129,000-square-foot rainwater roof storage strategy that channels fresh water into the River Torrens, thereby helping the local ecosystem. The ACC is on its way to five-star green-certified protocol in lighting and has participated in the Earth Check Program since 2007, receiving the coveted EarthCheck Gold certification four times. 

All this while donating more than 130,000 unused, locally sourced meals from its impressive Vitality Menu to local charities in South Australia. The Vitality Menu is the first of its kind designed by world-class nutritionists for local, tasty meals that fuel both mind and body to help improve concentration.

It appears that the ACC has its feet rooted firmly on the ground while reaching for the stars.

Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.

With its bright rays, surf and movie stars, Southern California is often the envy of the nation. In sun-drenched Orange County, the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) and Visit Anaheim are quickly becoming the envy of the meetings world with their impressive, cutting-edge amenities. With the techie migration from Silicon Valley to SoCal happening at 1 billion gigahertz per second, the ACC has its own data analytics to brag about.

It is now the largest convention center on the West Coast with the addition of the ACC North, which opened in September. ACC is now clocking in at 1.8 million square feet, with more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space, 750,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, 7,500 arena seats, 99 meeting rooms and 200,000 square feet of super-sunny outdoor space.

Although the ACC books many traditional industry attendees, some unusual clients have appeared of late, including Pikachu, Charizard and Gengar. Accompanied by a bevy of real-life Pokemon corporate enthusiasts, these techies converged on the ACC for a meeting of the virtual minds. The attendees were thrilled to find that the entire campus, including the Grand and Arena outdoor plazas, are completely wired with free Wi-Fi.

According to Jay Burress, president and CEO of Visit Anaheim, the Pokemon folks were dazzled with the entire campus, and there wasn’t a single report of a Pokemon-related accident.

“Our technology business has seen an incredible increase,” he said. “With the development of e-sports and digital technology industries that are booming right here in Orange County and Los Angeles, it gives them the opportunity to showcase right here in their backyard and bring visitors from around the world. It’s been terrific.”

The ACC is future-forward in its approach to sustainability as well. It features the largest municipal solar installation in the nation and has a vibrant composting policy, where large composting machines process thousands of pounds of naturally occurring fertilizing compost for local gardens and parks. Through another unique initiative with F&B partner Aramark, whole-animal, free-range livestock is dedicated exclusively to the ACC. Partnerships with Certified Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade Products are also in full swing.

Meanwhile, the ACC Green Zone Recycling Center, a food donation program and a green rooftop herb garden have proudly qualified the ACC for LEED Gold certification.

Populous architects and Turner Construction Company helped the ACC create a unique structure. The design represents the Santa Ana river flowing from the mountains to the ocean. Fountains are present with the aesthetic intention to flow with the original structure, which was inspired by the waves of the California coastline. Cascading ocean waves and palm tree wood are included along with themed carpets.

The ACC and Visit Anaheim have another amazing asset in the area of destination wellness. The campus utilizes the sunny surroundings by offering walking, running and biking paths in and around the ACC that connect all the way to the surf at Huntington Beach. The expansive Grand Plaza recently accommodated a 500-plus person yoga session as well as spin classes for an American Heart Association (AHA) gathering.

Another attribute of wellness is Aramark’s collaboration with the AHA in the designation of heart-healthy meals available to all delegates. Combined with a great night’s sleep at three nearby, world-class hotels, the ACC brings new meaning to “nama-stay.”

For nightlife and entertainment, the ACC invites you to enjoy a really cool, free perk. Step out onto the 10,000-square-foot Katella Terrace after dark and enjoy the famous Disney fireworks on the house.

Delegates can also stroll over to the House of Blues for a concert or to Downtown Disney for some quality time with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto. Many attendees choose to bring their family along to enjoy the sports and entertainment amenities located within walking distance.

Things just got a whole lot brighter at the ACC after the addition of the ACC North and the entirety of the campus enhancements. It’s not often that you can attend a convention, rejuvenate like Sleeping Beauty and return to the office with a California tan.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.

Like the Washington political scene, Events DC, which operates the majority of events, sports and entertainment for the nation’s capital, certainly has its agenda filled with the ongoing improvements at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The 2.3 million-square-foot center is equipped to handle events of all sizes, from 500 to a whopping 42,000 attendees. It has 703,000 square feet of exhibit space, 198,000 square feet of flexible meeting space with 77 breakout rooms and the largest ballroom in the region, plus a $4 million art collection.

Everyone knows that grassroots campaigns are the key to winning constituents, and Events DC’s initiatives for greening the center are well under way. With such an enormous facility, energy conservation is an ever-evolving objective, and the recent Solar Film window installation by 3M ensures consistent temperature control, a common guest complaint for buildings of its size.

Meanwhile, Events DC has impressive plans to revitalize the Shaw neighborhood that surrounds the facility. Streetscaping will commence this spring, transforming the community with murals, public art, vertical plant installations and light displays.

It’s often said that Washington politics operates in its own reality. With virtual reality (VR) partners Oculus Rift and Samsung, Events DC offers headsets to provide potential clients and attendees with an immersive experience of content highlighting the center as well as the Events DC brand. The VR experience also keeps clients up to date on projects such as the RFK Stadium-Armory Campus redevelopment and the upcoming Entertainment and Sports Arena development in Congress Heights.

Events DC is moving quickly to stay atop attendee needs by installing facility-wide free Wi-Fi through technology partner, Smart City.

“We are committed to providing first-class technology capabilities that now include an expansion of our free Wi-Fi service in an effort to better serve our customers with a seamless yet interactive experience inside the center,” said Gregory A. O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC.

While Capitol Hill may be known for gridlock, it’s nice to know that speed is a priority in this particular corner of the capital. 


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