The board of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority voted Wednesday to privatize the Philadelphia facility’s management, awarding a five-year contract to SMG. The venue-management firm will begin overseeing operations—including maintenance, sales, marketing, scheduling, coordinating with the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau and other duties—within the next three to four months. Once the contract is finalized in the next 30 days, SMG will begin reviewing the center’s labor supplier model and work rules in an effort to reduce costs, improve service and better compete with other cities’ convention facilities. The center completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2011 that increased its size by 60 percent, giving it more than 1 million sq. ft. of space. It joins Detroit’s Cobo Center and Chicago’s McCormick Place, both of which decided to privatize and hire SMG since 2010. In addition, SMG operates convention centers in Columbus, Ohio; Denver; San Francisco and Salt Lake City. bellevuepr.com
Update at 10:45 a.m. PDT, June 7, 2013: The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau released the following statement from President & CEO Jack Ferguson on the management change at the convention center: "SMG brings considerable industry expertise and an understanding of our client base to the table. Their bench strength lies in their experience operating convention facilities. In addition, they will bring other business resources that can support a positive customer experience. Together, it will allow us to tap into new business for Philadelphia and bring back others who had not planned to return. We certainly look forward to working with SMG and providing the highest level of customer service to our clients."
Planners selecting a meetings destination for groups as large as 10,000 people can now consider Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The new DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex opened this week after a two-year, $144 million redevelopment project. The work included converting a former Crown Plaza hotel owned by the city to the Hilton brand, making improvements to the adjacent 9,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center arena and building a new 80,000-square-foot convention center. Other updates to the hotel include renovations to its 267 guest rooms and the addition of a restaurant and bar. To mark the opening, the hotel is offering a meetings incentive package for groups requiring at least 10 rooms. doubletree.com
The Dallas City Council voted unanimously last week to rename the Dallas Convention Center after a former U.S. senator. The facility is now known as the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. A Republican, Hutchinson decided not to seek re-election in 2012 after representing Texas in the U.S. Senate since 1993. The council cited Hutchison’s support for several transportation projects, including securing funding for the DART light-rail system and leading efforts to lift restrictions on flights out of Dallas Love Field, as inspiration for honoring the Dallas resident. The center has more than 1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space. dallasobserver.com
In Norfolk, Va., the City Council approved a $126 million project that will include a luxury hotel and 50,000-square-foot conference center that could open by 2017. The hotel would be a 23-story, 300-room property to be built on a downtown lot currently being used as a temporary park. The city has been working for nearly a decade to get a conference hotel built on the property, and arrangements with at least two previous developers have fallen through. New developer Gold Key/PHR Hotels & Resorts of Virginia Beach, which previously built the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront about 20 miles away, will cover the majority of construction costs for the hotel while the city will be responsible for the conference center, a parking garage and recruiting a high-end restaurant. hamptonroads.com
Those planning or attending conferences at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida will soon be able to take advantage of free, unlimited rides to the facility on the city’s streetcar system. The 600,000-square-foot convention center has partnered with the historic TECO Line, which runs between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. Beginning May 1, attendees can show their conference badge to board a streetcar at any of the line’s 11 stations. The system operates noon to 10 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays, with service every 20–30 minutes. Planners should contact the convention center at least one week prior to their event for details. tampaconventioncenter.com
The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association will begin its annual conference Wednesday at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston, although the facility is currently inside an area closed off by authorities investigating Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. The event website reports that the convention center staff has assured organizers that the conference will be able to take place as planned. The association decided to delay registration until Wednesday morning “out of an abundance of caution” and to make sure the event will not interfere with the criminal investigation going on outside. Limited access to the center also means that exhibitor setup has also been delayed. Only a few attendees have decided to cancel. ascassociation.org
San Diego’s new Democratic mayor wants to reverse a decision that transferred responsibility for marketing the city’s convention center to the San Diego Tourism Authority last year. Former Mayor Jerry Sanders pushed for the change as he sought local hoteliers’ support for a room tax increase to help pay for a $520 million expansion of the 615,701-square-foot San Diego Convention Center. Current Mayor Bob Filner last week sent a letter to the board of the Convention Center Corp., asking it to reverse the decision and return marketing and sales authority to convention center staff. The tourism authority has said it will take legal action if the city cancels its four-year contract with the CVB. utsandiego.com
It is just the latest move by Filner, who since taking office in December has aggressively sought to roll back hoteliers’ influence over the city’s tourism industry. He has refused to release millions of dollars collected via room taxes to the San Diego Tourism Marketing District Corp., seeking a more advantageous deal for the city and better pay and benefits for hotel workers. The district provides 80 percent of funding for the tourism authority, which has already canceled a $5 million advertising campaign and has said it will begin laying off staff in the coming months. The case has gone to court, and last week a judge approved an expedited hearing to take place March 22. utsandiego.com
A new pedestrian bridge connecting the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando with the Rosen Plaza Hotel will be dedicated to the memory of Gary Sain, the former president and CEO of Visit Orlando. Sain, a respected industry figure who had headed the region’s marketing agency since 2007, died in May after collapsing at a fundraising event. Construction of the Gary Sain Memorial Bridge will cost $1.5 million and will be similar to an aerial walkway that the hotel’s sister property, Rosen Centre, installed last year. Rosen Plaza completed a renovation of its 800 guest rooms in the fall. rosenplaza.com
The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center near Houston on Wednesday announced a major redevelopment project that will involve a facelift for all 60,000 sq. ft. of its existing meeting and event facilities, including the ballroom, boardrooms, breakout space, lobby and prefunction areas. In addition, the renovation and expansion will involve improvements to 222 guest rooms and suites in the Fairway Pines I and II wings, replacing lodge rooms in Fairway Pines III with a new wing featuring 184 rooms and suites, a new 3,036-square-foot space connecting the three wings and available for informal gatherings, an updated 13,000-square-foot spa, construction of a lazy river, and a new restaurant and lounge. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2014. hotelnewsresource.com
Work began this week on the first phase of a $20 million renovation of the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico. Scheduled for completion in August, initial work will include an overhaul of upper-level ballrooms in the West Building, including the installation of new ceiling treatments, movable partitions, an improved sound system and more; new kitchen equipment and a food demonstration room; installation of a new service corridor and elevator; demolition of a loading dock ramp; and renovation of the East Building’s exterior facades. The complete project should be finished by the summer of 2014. albuquerquecc.com
The owner of Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas says he is exploring the idea of adding a $30 million, 100,000-square-foot convention center. The project would connect the casino with its six-story parking garage, which is currently accessed via a covered walkway. Billionaire Phil Ruffin bought the casino from MGM Resorts International for $775 million four years ago. lvrj.com
Months ahead of its opening, the expanded convention complex under construction in Nashville, Tenn., already has more than 100 events booked. Those conventions account for nearly 830,000 room nights booked at hotels, which puts the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation well on the way to its goal of selling 1 million room nights by the time the new Music City Center opens later this year. The $623 million facility will offer 350,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, three times the amount currently available at the nearby Nashville Convention Center, giving the city a chance to book larger conventions. Indeed, the average size group booked at the new Music City Center is 6,800 people—almost exactly three times larger than the average group at the old convention center. Due to open in May, the Music City Center will have 1.2 million sq. ft. in total space, including a 57,000-square-foot grand ballroom, 18,000-square-foot junior ballroom and 60 meeting rooms totaling 90,000 sq. ft., making it one of the largest convention facilities in the South. Omni Hotels & Resorts is also opening a headquarters hotel adjacent to the complex later this year, with an additional 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. visitmusiccity.com
Some officials in Phoenix say that Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law is to blame for declining bookings at the city’s convention center. The Arizona Republic reports that projected bookings at the 900,000-square-foot Phoenix Convention Center for the current budget year have decreased 30% compared to a peak in 2009, adding up to a loss of $132 million in direct spending. While the article notes that the recession and tight travel budgets have also affected convention business in recent years, the newspaper says that bookings for similar facilities in San Diego, Denver, San Antonio and Salt Lake City are either flat or slowly rebounding. Scott Dunn, senior director of marketing and communications for the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that a “misperception that our city does not value diversity” has exacerbated difficult economic conditions.
The Arizona legislature passed S.B. 1070 in 2010. Among other things, the law requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest if there is a reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally. The bill’s passage sparked protests, boycotts and cancelations. Local tourism officials say they are just now starting to feel the effects on convention business because of long lead times for large, national conferences. Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos said the convention center has been able to avoid going in the red by cutting expenses and pursing more local trade show to make up for canceled events. Meanwhile, the CVB has increased marketing efforts, and Mayor Greg Stanton has actively reached out to convention planners in an attempt to counteract the state’s image. azcentral.com
The Banff Centre conference facility in Alberta, Canada, was hoping its new education building would meet the standards for LEED Silver Certification, but the building actually ended up qualifying for an even better level in the sustainability rating system. The Kinnear Centre for Creativity & Innovation attained LEED Gold Certification for its environmental design, which includes shading from the sun to minimize energy use and an innovative storm-water management system. Located within Banff National Park, the building utilized sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for 78% of its wood, and efforts were made to restore the natural vegetation after construction finished. The Kinnear Centre opened in 2010 as part of a $100 million redevelopment project. In addition to 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting and conference facilities, the building also has showers and bike racks to encourage commuting by bicycle.banffcentre.ca
Caesars Entertainment is getting into the convention-center management business in Iowa. The gaming company has taken over operation of the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb. The facility features a 24,000-square-foot convention center, including two ballrooms and eight breakout rooms; 24,500 sq. ft. of exhibition space; 15,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space; and a 30,000-square-foot arena with 12 luxury suites. The center is the only facility on Caesars’ list of meeting properties that is not a casino resort, though it is less than 3 miles from the company’s Harrah’s Council Bluffs casino and hotel. Planners who book at the Mid-America Center will now receive the same benefits offered throughout the company’s portfolio, including Diamond status in Caesars’ reward program. cetmeetings.com
Even as Atlantic City, N.J., continues to pick up following Superstorm Sandy, plans are proceeding to expand the city’s conference offerings. Caesars Entertainment Corp. last week unveiled details of a proposal for a $134 million conference center at its Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. The project would build on the casino’s southwest corner and involve a two-floor, 200,000-square-foot addition, half of which would constitute meeting space. The remainder would include office and storage space. New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which would finance the project, is currently conducting a study on how it might affect the Atlantic City Convention Center, although Caesars executives stress that the conference center would focus on corporate meetings and special events rather than trade shows. They also hope it could spur development on land between the Harrah’s resort and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, a 72-acre parcel that’s had no proposition for development since MGM Resorts International abandoned plans to build a casino on the site. Construction on the conference center could begin as soon as January, with an opening in July 2014. pressofatlanticcity.com
The agency that owns McCormick Place in Chicago is working on a plan for a major hotel complex around the convention center that will also include restaurants, entertainment venues, an arena that could accommodate large corporate events and potentially a casino. At a luncheon, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Jim Reilly said the agency is looking to create the sort of convention complex that can compete with Las Vegas and Orlando, offering 3,000 people a place to stay, meet and eat without going outside. Reilly did not disclose details of the plan, but he confirmed that the agency is working on such a proposal. The agency, known as McPier, also owns Navy Pier and will soon unveil a redevelopment proposal for that facility, as well. chicagotribune.com
San Francisco’s Moscone Center has received LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first convention center on the west coast to achieve the honor. The facility recently completed a two-year, $56 million renovation designed around the goal of achieving certification, taking more than 250 corrective actions to improve energy efficiency and reduce its environmental impact. The facility’s sustainable features include a below-ground design that saves on heating and cooling costs, new plumbing fixtures that reduce indoor water usage by 40%, a solar array that generates 5% of the building’s energy, and controls that adjust lighting based on occupancy and natural light. sanfrancisco.travel
In the race to build a convention hotel, Texarkana, Texas, has emerged as the winner over its metropolitan counterpart in Arkansas. The new Texarkana Convention Center and an attached Hilton Garden Inn both celebrated their openings this week on the Texas side of the state line. The $24 million project represents a partnership between the city and local hotel operator Daugherty Property Group. The convention center offers 25,000 sq. ft. of event space, including a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and a 6,000-square-foot outdoor plaza. The hotel features 154 guest rooms, including 25 suites.
Not to be outdone, Texarkana, Ark., is getting its own convention hotel, a Holiday Inn with as many as 150 rooms and a 22,000-square-foot event center. Work continues on the $18 million project, which broke ground a year ago. It is about three miles from the convention center in Texas. tamu.edu
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority on Monday finalized the purchase of 5.6 acres across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Sold for $33 million, the land is intended for the construction of two mid-priced hotels with 400–500 rooms. The authority still wants to buy another 20 acres of land to build a 1,000-room headquarters hotel, as well as parking garages and other infrastructure, to alleviate a hotel shortage in the South Boston neighborhood. The purchase is a first step toward a proposed $2 billion expansion of the convention facility. bostonherald.com