Convention Centers: Finding a Perfect Fit

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, California

Whether you require an intimate or immense space, there is a convention or conference center to fit your needs

Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Once upon a time, a young girl wandered into Mama, Papa and Baby Bear’s home. She noticed three bowls of porridge. The first was too hot, the second too cold, but the third was just right and she ate it all. In the living room, one chair was too big, one was too small, but the third was just right. When she went upstairs to the bedroom to rest, the first bed was too hard, the second too soft, but the third was just right, and she fell into a deep sleep.

This fairy tale holds valuable lessons for planners. Some convention and conference centers may be too big, causing your group to feel lost in a cavernous space. Others may be too small, making your guests feel claustrophobic. But the right size center will be just perfect.

We have divided this guide into noteworthy venues that are small (under 500,000 sq. ft.), medium (500,000–1 million sq. ft.) and large (more than 1 million sq. ft.). Find the right fit for your needs and live happily ever after!

Small Convention Centers (Under 500,000 sq. ft.)

austin convention center

Austin Convention Center

Austin, Texas
This LEED Gold certified building is one of the country’s most technologically advanced, moving voice, video and data at over 1 billion bits per second. The four-level complex, which features complimentary Wi-Fi throughout, spans six city blocks and features 369,132 sq. ft. of exhibit and meeting space. There are five contiguous, column-free exhibit halls totaling 247,052 sq. ft., seven ballrooms ranging from 3,896 to 40,510 sq. ft. and 54 meeting rooms totaling 58,000 sq. ft. Austin Convention Center is located in the vibrant downtown, near 23 hotels, with 7,500 guest rooms.

Boise Centre

Boise, Idaho
Boise Centre was originally unveiled in 1990, but an expansion project will increase the meeting capacity from 50,000 to 86,000 sq. ft. The event space is expected to open later this summer. Groups will enjoy a new 15,000-square-foot ballroom and 7,000-square-foot kitchen. The expansion will add 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting room space and 7,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space. The new additions will be connected to the existing facility by an enclosed concourse. Boise Centre is located in the heart of the city, with hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation just outside the door.

Branson Convention Center

Branson Convention Center

Branson, Missouri
Branson Convention Center is a world-class facility in one of the country’s most entertaining destinations. Located in the $420 million Branson Landing development, it is an architectural gem offering 113,725 sq. ft. of usable space. It features a 47,172-square-foot exhibit hall, a 22,703-square-foot ballroom and 10 flexible breakout rooms. Although the facility can accommodate up to 4,000, it is ideally suited for groups of about 800. It is connected to the 12-story Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, which has 294 guest rooms, and is across the street from the 242-room Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing.

Charlotte Convention Center

Charlotte, North Carolina
The Charlotte Convention Center, opened in 1995, attracts more than one-half million visitors annually. The facility is connected to NASCAR Hall of Fame. It has 280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, more than 90,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, the 35,000-square-foot Convention Center Ballroom and the 40,000-square-foot Crown Ballroom.

Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas

Irving, Texas
The LEED Silver certified, state-of-the-art Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas has almost 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, and can accommodate groups of up to 4,000. Situated on 40 acres in the heart of Irving’s Las Colinas Urban Center, the convention center is one phase of a mixed-use entertainment district that will be completed in 2017 and will also include a 350-room Westin convention center hotel and the 8,000-seat Music Factory entertainment venue.

Lexington Convention Center

Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington Convention Center is a dynamic venue with 66,000 sq. ft. of dedicated exhibit space, 40,000 sq. ft. of elegant meeting spaces, and a mall and food court. Attached to both the Hyatt Regency and Hilton Hotel, Lexington Convention Center is located in the vibrant downtown—near boutiques, restaurants, night clubs and entertainment.

hero-lied-lodge

Lied Lodge & Conference Center at Arbor Day Farm

Nebraska City, Nebraska
This 140-room property less than an hour from Omaha just completed a $9 million refreshment. It features more than 14,000 sq. ft. of timbered meeting and event space indoors; outdoors, guests have 260 acres to golf, bike and hike.

Lied Lodge & Conference Center was the perfect fit for the VitiNord International Conference,” says Max McFarland, owner of Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyards, who organized a conference for 230 in November. “The staff made putting on the conference simple and straightforward. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such high accolades in post-conference evaluations.”

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center

Long Beach, California
Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center completed a $40 million modernization in 2013. The Southern California center offers 377,730 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space. There are three exhibition halls, which combine for 224,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space. The meeting center also features a 13,500-seat arena and two theaters that seat 3,052 and 825, respectively.

Located in the heart of downtown Long Beach, the convention center is within walking distance of more than 5,000 guest rooms. Visitors can shop, dine, sightsee and stroll along picturesque bays and more than 5 miles of sandy beach.

meydenbauer center

Meydenbauer Center

Bellevue, Washington
Meydenbauer Center, built in 1993, just completed substantial renovations to make it more tech-forward. Located just 9 miles from tech-friendly Seattle, Meydenbauer Center offers 54,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, and can accommodate groups of up to 3,500 people.

“Since Meydenbauer opened 23 years ago, Bellevue has developed into a vibrant urban city that is home to several major corporations and ambitious start-ups,” says Executive Director Stacy Graven. “[The renovation] elevates the convention center’s interior and provides a new level of finishes and technology that is consistent with our hotel partners.”

monterey conference center

Monterey Conference Center

Monterey, California
Monterey Conference Center, located in the heart of the coastal city, is in the midst of a $60 million renovation that is expected to transform the town, as well. When it reopens, it will offer more flexible meeting space, advanced technology and LEED certification.

“This renovation will provide the advanced facility sought by meeting planners to complement their memorable meeting and destination experience,” says Tammy Blount, president and CEO of Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. As a stand-alone facility, Monterey Conference Center has 41,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space and a 19,150-square-foot exhibit hall. Planners who require more space can partner with the 379-room Portola Hotel & Spa, a lovely waterfront property adjacent to the convention center that is undergoing a dramatic renovation of its own. Portola offers more than 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space indoors and nearly 60,000 sq. ft. outdoors.

myrtle-beach-convention-center

Myrtle Beach Convention Center

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach Convention Center and the 400-room Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel are connected, presenting meeting planners with a dynamic-duo punch. The convention center features more than 250,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space, including a 100,800-square-foot column-free exhibition hall and 17,000-square-foot ballroom. The 30,000-square-foot plaza is perfect for receptions, barbecues and outdoor events.

Oregon Convention Center

Portland, Oregon
The LEED Platinum Oregon Convention Center (OCC) is the largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest. It boasts 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 50 meeting rooms with 18-foot ceilings, two grand ballrooms (one with 34,200 sq. ft. and the other with 25,200 sq. ft.) and $2 million in artwork throughout lobbies and public spaces. A 600-room headquarter hotel is expected to open in 2018. A green leader, OCC offers food service from Pacificwild Catering, with fresh and seasonal menus that are often locally sourced.

Palm Springs Convention Center

Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs Convention Center, which reopened in late 2015 after a $32.3 million expansion, offers a 92,545-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall that can expand to 112,561 sq. ft. with the addition of the Primrose Ballroom. The adjoining 410-room Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel offers an additional 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

The easily walkable downtown area is an attraction for attendees. A fast and free trolley service called The Buzz transports visitors and residents.

Pasadena Convention Center

Pasadena, California
Pasadena is located just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles and is accessible from all L.A.-area airports and freeways. Pasadena Convention Center features 97,000 sq. ft. of space for meetings, including spacious exhibit halls, a ballroom and 29 meeting rooms. More than 2,500 hotel rooms in all price points can be found within the city; 1,200 of them are within walking distance of the center.

Pasadena is a cultural mecca, and attendees can enjoy museums and galleries housing everything from European masters and early California impressionists to modern art.

South Point Hotel & Casino

Las Vegas
The privately owned South Point Hotel & Casino is located on the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard, away from the downtown hustle and bustle, but still close to The Strip. Amenities at the 2,079-room property include a 16-screen movie complex, 64-lane bowling center, 11 restaurants and a luxurious spa. Two unique features are the Equestrian Center and a 400-seat showroom with headliner entertainment. Groups can access 71,000 sq. ft. of conference meeting space, an 80,000-square-foot column-free exhibit hall and the 4,600-seat South Point Arena.

Medium Convention Centers (500,000–1,000,000 sq. ft.)

America’s Center Convention Complex

St. Louis
America’s Center Convention Complex houses four meeting facilities: Cervantes Convention Center, The Dome at America’s Center, the St. Louis Executive Conference Center and the 1,400-seat Ferrara Theatre. Five exhibit halls provide a total of 502,000 sq. ft. of flexible space. Planners can access a 28,000-square-foot ballroom, more than 80 meeting rooms and a 67,000-seat arena at the Dome.

John Bettag, vice president of sales for St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, points out that the complex hosted ASAE in 2011 and MPI WEC in 2012. “Prior to those events, we invested $60 million in renovations,” he says.

The CVB continues to stay on top of trends. “Technology needs have advanced over the years, and is of high concern for many groups, as attendees are showing up with two or three devices that are all looking for Wi-Fi,” Bettag says. “We work closely with our partner, Smart City, to meet these needs and requirements.”

Boston Convention Center

Boston
Although Beantown boasts several convention and conference centers, Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is the largest in the city. It features 516,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, 82 meeting rooms and a 41,000-square-foot, column-free ballroom that overlooks Boston Seaport. Boston’s geographical location makes it an easy gateway city for both national and international attendees, and the convention center is only eight minutes from Logan International Airport (BOS).

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Nashville, Tennessee
“Gaylord Opryland Resort is designed with meetings and events in mind,” says General Manager Pete Weien. “From our extraordinary environments, our focus on flawless service and our meetings expertise, we offer an all-under-one-roof experience that creates natural opportunities for your attendees to connect.”

The 2,882-room Gaylord Opryland features more than 700,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space and 106 breakout rooms. Guests can explore 9 acres of indoor dining, shopping and recreation options, including the Grand Ole Opry.

Los Angeles Convention Center

Los Angeles Convention Center

Los Angeles
Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) is a LEED Gold certified, technologically advanced convention center in the vibrant downtown region, very close to the LA Live and Staples Center. Opened in 1971, it has undergone several expansions and modernizations over the years. LACC features 720,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 147,000 sq. ft. of meeting space spread across 64 rooms and a 299-seat theater. LACC hosts 350 events annually, including the BET Experience, Emmy Awards: Governors Ball and Grammy Awards Celebration. Last year the City Council approved a recommendation to move forward in contract negotiations to expand the facility.

raleigh convention center

Raleigh Convention Center

Raleigh, North Carolina
Opened in September 2008, the LEED Silver certified Raleigh Convention Center serves groups of up to 5,000. The modern, 500,000-square-foot facility includes an elegant ballroom, a 150,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 4,100-square-foot mezzanine. It partners with nearby Red Hat Amphitheater and Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

Although North Carolina has been embroiled in a discrimination controversy, Raleigh Convention Center issued a statement of support for all visitors, regardless of race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It emphasizes that House Bill 2 does not reflect the values of the facility.

Phoenix_Convention_Center

Phoenix Convention Center

Phoenix
A critical economic enterprise for the city and state, the stunning Phoenix Convention Center offers nearly 900,000 total sq. ft. of meeting and exhibition space. The 312,500-square-foot exhibit hall features prescored floors. Planners can take advantage of a 46,000-square-foot ballroom, 99 meeting rooms, the 2,312-seat Symphony Hall and the 1,364-seat Orpheum Theatre. A popular choice for sporting events, Phoenix Convention Center hosted the NFL Super Bowl Experience in 2015 and 2016 College Football Playoff Fan Central. It will host the NCAA Final Four in 2017. Located just 4 miles from Sky Harbor International Airport, the Metro Light Rail has dedicated stops at the Center.

Salt Palace Convention Center

Salt Palace Convention Center

Salt Lake City
Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center is fondly referred to as the Salt Palace. Built in 1969, it has undergone several major renovations to emerge as a modern facility with 679,000 sq. ft. of space, broken down to 515,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 164,000 sq. ft. for meetings. The elegant grand ballroom is divisible into 10 smaller rooms, and several foyers can accommodate receptions. The high-tech facility features 2GB high-speed internet access and a wireless system that can accommodate more than 10,000 devices running concurrently. The Salt Palace will serve as host venue for the American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting & Exposition Aug. 13–16.

Large Convention Centers (More than 1 million sq. ft.)

Anaheim Convention Center

Anaheim, California
Anaheim Convention Center (ACC), which opened in 1967, is the largest convention center on the West Coast. Located across the street from Disneyland Resort, it is currently in the midst of its seventh expansion. The $180 million project will add 200,000 flexible sq. ft. to its already impressive 1.6 million sq. ft. The expansion, which is expected to be complete by 2017, will allow ACC to host mega groups and service multiple conventions at the same time.

Georgia World Congress Center

Georgia World Congress Center

Atlanta
Atlanta boasts two world-class convention centers. Georgia World Congress Center features an amazing 3.9 million sq. ft. of exhibit space. The LEED Silver certified convention center is adjacent to Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park, creating a meeting center for all types of events, including large-scale outdoor concerts.

Georgia International Convention Center in College Park is smaller and offers convenience due to its proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). The airport area offers a whopping 11,000 hotel rooms with more than 250,000 sq. ft. of event space, including 150,000 sq. ft. provided by the convention center. A free, automated people-mover seamlessly transports visitors.

Mandalay Bay Convention Center

Las Vegas
Owned and operated by MGM Resorts International, Mandalay Bay Convention Center is one of the largest meeting facilities on the Las Vegas Strip, with 2.1 million gross sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space. It features a plethora of indoor and outdoor spaces, including 181,000-square-foot Shoreline Exhibition Hall, 100,014-square-foot Mandalay Ballroom and a 12,000-seat event center. Unique event venues include the sandy 11-acre Mandalay Beach (located next to a wave pool), and the 1.6-million-gallon Shark Reef Aquarium, which can host receptions for up to 1,500.

With 18 certified meeting professionals on staff, Mandalay Bay can bring any convention or special gathering to life.

Orange County Convention Center

Orlando, Florida
Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) opened in 1983. With more than 2 million sq. ft. of exhibition space and 74 meeting rooms with a combined total of 479,190 sq. ft., OCCC is the second-largest convention center in the United States. A $187 million capital improvement plan for the LEED Gold center is expected to be complete by 2017. Improvements include renovations to 62,182-square-foot Valencia Ballroom, the addition of the 48,961-square-foot Tangerine ballroom, an outdoor terrace and garden, and a pedestrian bridge.

For more than 20 years, OCCC has hosted the PGA Merchandise Show. “The key to our continued success is effective collaboration with the OCCC,” says Mike Grant, vice president of operations for Reed Exhibitions. “The OCCC’s exceptional facility, skilled logistical team and incomparable customer service exceed our expectations and encourage exhibitors and attendees to return year after year.”

Pennsylvania Convention Center

Philadelphia
Located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Convention Center is woven into the city’s landscape. More than 10,000 hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants, shops, historical attractions and cultural institutions are within walking distance.

The LEED Gold certified center opened in 1993, and completed a substantial expansion in 2011. It boasts more than 2 million total sq. ft. of space. Seven exhibit halls contain 679,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 528,000 sq. ft. of which is contiguous. There are more than 82 meeting rooms.

San Diego Convention Centers

San Diego Convention Center

San Diego
With a total of 2.6 million sq. ft. of space, San Diego Convention Center is one of the premier convention centers in the world. It offers 525,701 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space, with a 90,000-square-foot column-free exhibit space in the upper level pavilion. There are 72 meeting/banquet rooms that total 204,114 sq. ft. The LEED Silver certified venue has been recycling since 1990.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Washington, DC
The cornerstone of downtown DC’s renaissance, the 2.3-million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center is technically advanced and artistically impressive. In addition to 703,000 flexible sq. ft. of exhibition space, the two-level building boasts 198,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, a 52,000-square-foot ballroom and 77 breakout rooms. The versatile space can accommodate a sit-down dinner for more than 16,000 guests. The sleek structure features towering glass walls. Its $4 million collection of sculptures, paintings and photography is the largest public collection of art in DC outside of a museum.


It Pays to be Part of the Network

The promise of Marriott quality, plus a luxury brand that feels familiar no matter the setting, are the biggest reasons meeting planners are scheduling multiple meetings and incentive trips with Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network (CRN).

Brands within the CRN include JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Gaylord, City Center and Marriott Marquis properties all over North America, the Caribbean and Mexico. A planner satisfied with their successful meeting or event can confidently book the following year’s event (or several years’ events) at the same resort or another property, knowing their group will receive the same satisfactory service and accommodations.

“Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network has seen a record-breaking increase of 38 percent in multiyear, large group bookings across their 30 hotels with 1,000 rooms of more, and has found that groups of 300 or more are booking events further out than they were just two years ago,” says Mike Wainwright, vice president of sales strategy for Marriott’s Convention & Resort Network. “We can attribute this growth to properly aligning our portfolio of hotels based on the needs of the customer and always customizing our offers, along with the planners’ desire to secure their most wanted locations and preferred dates.”

Convention hotels within the CRN must offer a minimum of 600 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space to be a part of the network, and resorts require 350 rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of space. The property must also host national groups and maintain high event satisfaction survey scores, among many other prerequisites. Combined, the properties in the network offer more than 6.7 million sq. ft. of meeting space and more than 62,000 guest rooms.

Whether groups want to move from coast to coast (say, from the 1,500-room San Francisco Marriott Marquis to the 1,148-room Boston Marriott Copley Place) or stay regional (such as the three JW Marriott properties in Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale), the 62 properties within the CRN make it possible to create a unique experience, year after year.
–Loraine Burger


International Convention & Conference Centers of Note
le blanc spa resort cancun mexico

Palace Resorts

Mexico & Jamaica
Palace Resorts’ eight all-inclusive properties in Mexico and Jamaica can accommodate groups of all sizes. In Cancun, Mexico, the elegant Le Blanc Spa Resort (pictured) features two ballrooms with a total of 8,418 sq. ft. of convention space. Sun Palace in Cancun has a 3,318-square-foot ballroom; Playacar Palace in Playa del Carmen has a 3,330-square-foot ballroom; and Beach Palace in Cancun boasts an 8,275-square-foot ballroom. Moon Palace Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios offers 21,000 sq. ft. of flexible, beachfront meeting space. Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort in Cancun can handle up to 10,000 guests in 140,000 sq. ft. of multifunctional space.

Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Toronto, Ontario
The award-winning, green Metro Toronto Convention Centre is the largest convention center in Canada, with more than 600,000 sq. ft. of total space. It boasts 460,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibit space; 66 furnished meeting rooms, a 78,000-square-foot multi-purpose ballroom and the plush, 1,232-seat John Bassett Theatre.

Vancouver Convention Centre

Vancouver, British Columbia
Site of PCMA Convening Leaders in January 2016, Vancouver Convention Centre features two buildings that together offer 466,500 sq. ft. of space in 72 rooms. The 53,000-square-foot ballroom faces the waterfront.

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