Conference and convention centers upgrade to live in harmony with surroundings

The future of conference and convention centers is sustainable according to a recent IACC Meeting Room of the Future Barometer study. Increasingly, venue operators are seeing RFPs that ask about everything from energy sources and waste recycling plans to DEI programs.

In Europe, 59% of respondents reported seeing interest in social responsibility policies and 66% requesting environmental/sustainability credentials. In the Americas, 20% of respondents have seen requests for social responsibility and 33% have seen requests for credentials for sustainability. But even that number is up from previous years.

The same dynamic was observed when looking at requests for carbon footprint reports from clients. In Europe, 21% of venue operators reported collaborators wanting carbon measurements, which only 10% of respondents are able to provide. The Americas had a more even request-ability to provide ratio, albeit lower in both areas, at 6%.

The good news is that venues around the globe are investing in earth and people-friendly upgrades that actually leave the communities they serve better through food donations, clean water and energy programs and CSR activations—we call that symbiotic.

It turns out the Americas and Europe both have nearly equal social responsibility programs, such as food waste management—74% and 83% respectively—ability to accommodate attendees with disabilities—95% and 97%—and a diversity, equity and inclusivity policy—91% and 90%.

“We’re seeing more and more people expect businesses to act with purpose and not just to pay lip-service to the importance, but to implement policies and programs that actually make sense with their business and drive real change,” said IACC CEO Mark Cooper when introducing the association’s Social Impact Initiative.

Smart Meetings rounded up news about some of the spaces being re-envisioned coast-to-coast and found that in addition to increasing in size and technology amenities, many of these meeting hubs are adding sustainability features that make it easier for meeting professionals to align their net-zero goals for win-win events. See for yourself.

“We’re seeing more people expect businesses to act with purpose to drive real change.”

–  Mark Cooper, IACC



aerial view of oregon convention center
Oregon Convention Center, Photo: Joesph Sohm/Shutterstock

Oregon Convention Center in Portland covers 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 52 meeting rooms, two grand ballrooms, three VIP suites and the Skyview Terrace. The Center has full-service catering and an 800-space underground parking garage.

In 2019, the Center (OCC) completed a $40 million renovation projectOCC’s first large-scale renovation since the venue was built 30 years ago. The remodel includes updates to numerous public spaces throughout the venue to improve accessibility for event attendees, provide more flexible and transformable space options and elevate design aspects. The renovation project scope included creating a plaza area to provide a flexible outdoor space option for events. OCC drew inspiration from the beauty of Oregon’s natural landscape, with unique design touches such as lichen-inspired carpets and forest canopy ceilings.

Nearby, the circa 1921 Portland Expo Center employed an innovative recycling process when it retrofitted the roof on the 333,000-square-foot building, thereby diverting 83 tons of material from landfills. Metro saved $1.9 million in expenditures and the equivalent of 240 dump truck loads of roof debris from going directly to the landfill, said project manager Jesse Flores.



Summit, Seattle Convention Center’s new $2-billion addition opened in January 2023 in the heart of Seattle, nearly doubling the capacity of the Center by adding 573,770 square feet of event space, including 62 meeting rooms, a 58,000-square-foot column-free and divisible ballroom featuring 3,900 suspended planks of reclaimed wood, 248,450 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 140,700 sq. ft. of naturally lit lobby space and a 14,000-square-foot outdoor Garden Terrace. Summit and the original Arch building cover 1.5 million square feet.

Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes commented at the opening of the new Summit building:

“Seattle just won the lottery. But this wasn’t luck, this is the result of tremendous work by local companies and workers who’ve created a building that will bring hundreds of thousands of additional people to the city each year. This will mean millions in new spending and tax revenue, adding fuel to downtown’s continued recovery.”

The Hyatt Regency Seattle is within walking distance and is the first and only LEED Gold-Certified hotel in the city. It mirrors the architecture across the street and brings 1,260 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.



Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee is in the midst of a $456 million, 673,000-square-foot addition and a name change to Baird Center. When it reopens in 2024, the new construction will total 300,275 sq. ft., including 73,566 sq. ft. of breakout space, two ballrooms and a 32,000 sq. ft. rooftop ballroom with a 18,223 sq. ft. rooftop terrace for a total of 1.3 million sq. ft.


With four main areas and over 40,000 sq. ft. of combined meeting and function space, the completely modular design of Brookfield Conference Center completed in 2020 allows for a multitude of configurations. Spaces are appointed with custom loomed carpeting, modern lighting features, and state of the art audio/visual services. The outdoor Celebration Atrium is also fully landscaped for beautiful seasonal events. The venue is a central part of the city of Brookfield’s plan to redevelop the south end of the Brookfield Square shopping mall.



Boise Centre features 86,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space to accommodate groups of up to 2,000 people. The Centre offers 31 meeting rooms, modern amenities and views of the Boise Foothills. Flexible convention center floorplans feature exceptional catering services with locally-inspired menus, in-house audio visual, event production services and the latest in wireless technology. A three-phase, $47.5 million expansion of the Boise Centre added 36,000 sq. ft., including a new ballroom and eight additional breakout rooms, as well as a new junior ballroom and outdoor patio, increasing its capacity from 18 meeting rooms to 31 and a total of 80,000 sq. ft.



large yello inflatable rubber duck in park
Huntington Place, Detroit, Photo: Davslens Photography/Shutterstock

Detroit’s Convention Center, Huntington Place has just been recertified as a LEED Gold facility and is in line for an upcoming renovation and expansion including the possible inclusion of a new second ballroom. A new 600- to 800-room headquarters hotel is also in the works for the 1.1 million-square-foot space.


New Orleans

Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center recently achieved LEED Gold status by upgrading to energy-efficient, programmable LED exhibit hall lighting, new cooling towers and improved operations as part of a $557 million upgrade. A roof replacement will employ a creative foam technique that will improve insulation and reduce costs while repurposing the existing rock material to landscaping to avoid landfilling. All 140 meeting rooms will be refreshed and a new 40,000-square-foot grand ballroom that opens the center to river views is planned for the center’s third floor.



Colorado Convention Center in Denver will complete a $233 million expansion by the end of the year. Fresh views of the Rocky Mountains will be featured from a 20,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. A new 80,000-square-foot multifunction space, a 35,000-square-foot prefunction area and upgraded technology will complete the renovation.



Dallas has big plans for reimagining Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Pending voter approval for funding, the expanded 2.5-million-square-foot space would rethink its orientation, creating a park deck over the freeway and improving the access to the south. The newly reconfigured 800,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space will be easier to navigate with upgraded technology. A 105,000-square-foot ballroom would be one of the largest around. Construction is expected to begin in 2024, with a projected opening date in 2028.

Fort Worth

view from top seats at fort worth convention center

Architects have been hired to handle the first phase of the expansion of Fort Worth Convention Center, which includes the construction of new food-and-beverage facilities, the demolition of the annex, realignment of Commerce Street to create a site for a future hotel, and the rebuilding of the loading docks. Work will begin this year and finish in 2026.


The new Arlington Convention Center is continuing construction of the Arlington Entertainment District which will feature 216,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space adjacent to NFL Dallas Cowboy’s home of AT&T Stadium and MLB Texas Rangers Globe Life Field. A Loews Arlington Hotel will add an 888-room venue in 2024 to complement the 300-guest-room Live! By Loews, Arlington, Texas that opened in 2019.


Fort Lauderdale

Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center opened in 2021 with 800,000 sq. ft. of space, featuring a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall and two ballrooms. When finished, the facility will cover more than 1.2 million square feet, with the 350,000-square-foot exhibition hall; four ballrooms, including a new 65,000-square-foot waterfront ballroom; 50 breakout rooms; upgraded technology; enhanced water taxi access; and a 5-acre waterfront plaza with three restaurants, an amphitheater and outdoor event space. In total, the convention center is getting an additional 525,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and an 800-room Omni headquarters hotel at a cost of $1 billion. The Convention Center’s expansion and the hotel is slated to open in late 2025. It is targeting Gold LEED certification.

Read MoreFlorida’s First Coast



view of minneapolis convention center from lawn
Minneapolis Convention Center, Photo: Minneapolis Convention Center

Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) has been credited with Gold Level certification for the Events Industry Council (EIC) Sustainable Events Standards. It includes more than 2,600 solar panels on the MCC’s rooftop supplying 5% of the renewable energy used. The other remaining 95% comes from Xcel Energy’s locally sourced wind and solar energy.



Savannah Convention Center will finish its expansion in 2024, doubling the exhibit hall space to 200,000 sq. ft. and adding a 58-foot-wide hangar door. A 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 15 meeting rooms, a 900-space garage and a new glass facade entrance will make the space even more accessible.


St. Louis

Phase one of an expansion project at the city’s America’s Center convention facility began last May, to be completed by mid-2024. Now under construction are a 72,000-square-foot addition to hall 4 with natural lighting, a new entrance, more than twice the number of loading docks for access to the exhibit space, a “food farm” and other improvements.


Las Vegas

ground floor view of large convention center
Las Vegas Convention Center, Photo: RYO Alexandre/Shutterstock

Las Vegas Convention Center’s phase three upgrades begun in April of this year will upgrade the interiors of the North and Central halls, creating a new entrance and adding a climate-controlled connector that will allow users to go between exhibition halls without going outdoors. The project will be completed by the end of December 2025.

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