Spectacular Venues = Extraordinary Events

Meeting Planning

Sponsored by: Myrtle Beach Convention Center

Convention centers throughout the United States are leading the way in the meetings industry with regards to green practices, providing access to the latest technological advances and delivering the type of support that results in memorable events.

The Moscone Center in San Francisco made all three event components priorities when it was the primary site of Salesforce’s annual event, Dreamforce, in November. Dreamforce took over San Francisco during three days of special events, drawing more than 125,000, including 14,000 that attended the general session at the Moscone.

The world’s largest software conference, with participants from 82 countries, featured 1,250-plus breakout sessions and 350-plus partners in the Cloud Expo. The citywide event also boasted the largest inflatable structure ever used in North America, custom built for the conference at nearby Howard Street.

“Dreamforce started in 2003 with just 1,000 attendees in a hotel on Union Square in downtown San Francisco,” says Julie Liegl, conference chair. “Last year we became the world’s largest software conference. Dreamforce has been able to grow with Moscone and it’s a great space since it’s right in downtown San Francisco, Salesforce.com’s home.”

Moscone helped make the event as green as possible, setting up recycling and composting bins in public spaces, including the outdoor, block-long Dreamforce Plaza onsite. The catering folks did their part by serving lunch for 20,000 on 100 percent certified-compostable serve ware.

San Francisco’s meeting jewel boasts more than 700,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 106 meeting rooms and nearly 123,000 sq. ft. of pre-function lobbies spread over its three-building campus. It features 100 percent hydropower energy, combined with solar power that is generated onsite. Its Wi-Fi system is capable of simultaneously supporting 60,000 devices, which was put to the test during Dreamforce.

Starting on the West Coast of the United States and moving across the country, here’s a look at other convention centers and their trendy features that help create extraordinary events.


Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, Washington

San Jose McEnery Convention Center completed a $130 million expansion and makeover last October. It offers 550,000 sq. ft. of convention space and 43 meeting rooms. Coupled with support from Team San Jose and the city’s walkable, entertainment-filled downtown, the tech-savvy space attracts innovative conventions. The Graphics Processing Unit Technology Conference March 24-27 drew 3,100 delegates. The event featured branding at the center and throughout city, from building wraps and street banners to citywide digital signage.

Sacramento Convention Center Complex, which annually hosts 600 events, has 134,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, 31 meeting rooms and a 24,000-square-foot ballroom. Memorial Auditorium, which dates to 1927, offers three levels of seating for up to 3,849. The Hyatt Regency Sacramento and Sheraton Grand Sacramento are located next to the convention center.

Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) will complete a $5.7 million solar panel project in August. The panels, which will cover 300,000 sq. ft. of the convention center rooftops, will produce enough electricity to power 550 homes each day during normal daylight, and reduce the amount of power the center has to buy from an out-of-state power plant. LEED certified, the convention center has a comprehensive recycling center, including onsite composting, as well as a rooftop garden. ACC will expand for the seventh time in its 47-year history with the addition of 200,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art flexible meeting and exhibit space. The expansion begins this summer and is expected to be completed by fall 2016.

Pasadena Convention Center is located 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, with easy access from Los Angeles International and Burbank airports. The expanded convention center features a 55,000-square-foot exhibit hall (expandable to 80,000 sq. ft.), 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 29 meeting rooms and 3,000-seat Civic Auditorium. With 2,500 guest rooms in town, 500 restaurants, world-class shopping, theaters, golf, museums and gardens, Pasadena offers lots of accommodations and great offsite options for events based at the convention center. 

Palm Springs Convention Center’s proximity to the airport makes it an ideal location for the 2014 Aviation Summit, which will take place Oct. 31–Nov.  2. The Parade of Planes on Oct. 30 goes from the airport to the convention center, where aircraft will be on display inside and outside for three days. The convention center offers 261,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 112,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 20,000-square-foot ballroom. The Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel is adjacent to the convention center.

Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland is LEED Platinum-certified, offering an extensive waste recycling and recovery program for all events. The program includes pre- and post-consumer organic waste, menus featuring locally grown and organic food items and a host of facility features incorporating the most modern innovations. There’s more than 1 million sq. ft. on campus, with two grand ballrooms, 50 meeting rooms, 255,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 30,000-square-foot outdoor plaza.

Meydenbauer Center, the convention center in Bellevue, Washington, put its best foot forward when it hosted the annual fundraiser for the local chapter of the National Association of Catering Executives. With a theme of “Night Circus,” the decor included a circus tent. Complementary F&B featured a thai basil and pomegranate martini, hamachi crudo presented on an ice bar, and a fresh bucatini pasta tossed with local spicy sausage and blistered tomatoes and hazelnut. The center has 54,000 sq. ft. of event space and a 410-seat performing arts theater.

Keystone Resort and Conference Center in Colorado came up with re-imagined presentations in every area during a leadership conference that drew 500 participants last September. The opening night reception used paddleboats, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks with truss pieces used to hang lights for the A/V department. The general session room had three large screens and a diamond-shaped stage with seating all around it. With more than 60,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space at the resort, Keystone is one of the largest meeting venues in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.


As the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston expands, so do annual events that it hosts. For example, the International Quilt Market and International Quilt Festival have grown in lockstep with the convention center for 27 years and now use every square foot of the building for two weeks each fall. Boasting 1.2 million sq. ft. of leasable space, including seven exhibit halls and 88 meeting rooms, the convention center has plans to update its facade with a grand entryway and a street plaza served by onsite restaurants. A second headquarters hotel, the 1,000-room Marriott Marquis Houston, will open in 2016. The 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston is connected to the center and adds 91,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas (ICCLC) stands out for its design principles, program access and services that provide both physical and service accessibility to people with disabilities. RISE Adaptive Sports chose to stage the Wheelchair Motocross (WCMX) No Excuses Throwdown April 18–19 at the ICCLC. The event featured high-flying action as skateboard and BMX riders competed for cash prizes—the first time Texas saw a live event combining skate, BMX and WCMX in one arena. Utilizing the center’s 50,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall in its entirety, the event set-up included a competition course, stage area with two wheelchair lifts, retractable bleachers for up to 2,000 spectators and a free skate area.

Albuquerque Convention Center served as home base for the Association of Science-Technology Centers annual meeting last October, drawing 2,000 attendees from 44 countries. The convention center, which offers 167,562 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 31,000-square-foot ballroom and a 2,350-seat auditorium, provided ample room for ASTC to showcase the latest museum and science center trends in research, displays, technology and construction. Groups also ventured out to museum open houses, the planetarium and a street party with themes of Albuquerque’s past, present and future in science and technology.


Indiana Convention Center offers 566,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space and 71 meetings rooms. It’s set downtown, adjacent to 67,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium. The center hosted the 2014 Electric Drive Transportation Conference last month, as the city launched its electric car sharing program. The 1,005-room JW Marriott Indianapolis is the headquarters hotel for the event complex. The 33-story Marriott offers more than 103,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 40,500-square-foot ballroom.

McCormick Place in Chicago has one of the world’s grand meeting venues, including 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibit halls, 173 meeting rooms, four ballrooms and a 4,249-seat theater. It draws close to 3 million visitors each year. The Hyatt Regency McCormick Place is connected to the convention center, offering 1,258 guest rooms and its own conference center.


Ocean Center, Daytona Beach, Florida

New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center keeps getting better. The new Great Hall is a 60,300-square-foot divisible, column-free ballroom. The new pedestrian plaza provides a grand sense of arrival for all attendees and serves as a seamless connection to nearby hotels. Other amenities include 140 meeting rooms located directly above 1.1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 4,000-seat theater and a ballroom that is 30,000-plus sq. ft. The Mary Kay Leadership Conference in January drew 10,900. Celebrating its 50th birthday, Mary Kay’s  top sales reps gathered for inspiration and fun.

Tampa Convention Center in Florida released a new mobile app that is ideal for meeting planners, attendees and local residents. The app enables users to view current and upcoming events and review detailed floor plans of the four-level, 600,000-square-foot center. Additional features include a contact list with one-touch access to convention center staff, information on the Sail Pavilion waterfront bar, tips on parking and links to other detailed information on all Tampa Bay has to offer. 

Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, is a versatile venue with spectacular local artwork inspired by the beach and marine life that reminds attendees they’re meeting just 400 feet from the Atlantic. Besides exhibit and meeting space, there’s a 9,300-seat arena. Popular among sports and faith-based groups, the convention center drew 14,000 for the state cheer and dance competition and 9,100 to the Living Proof with Beth Moore conference this past year.

Cobb Galleria Centre and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre form a key meeting and entertainment complex in northwest Atlanta. Venues include a 144,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 3,600-square-foot special-event space, 20 meeting rooms and four executive boardrooms. There’s also a 2,750-seat theater. Each August, an in-house culinary team serves an authentic Georgia meal for 3,000 attendees during the Georgia Poultry Federation’s Gala. The night is capped by a concert featuring an A-list country music artist.

Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center (CMCC) in South Carolina spans 142,500 sq. ft., and has 15 fully customizable meeting rooms and an outdoor terrace. A popular CMCC event is FLW Expo, which caps off the Forrest Wood Cup fishing tournament hosted by Capital City Lake Murray Country. Scheduled to take place Aug. 15–17, the expo will utilize CMCC’s parking lot, exhibit hall, ballroom and breakout rooms for vendors, bass boat displays and fishing seminars. With the help of CMCC, a few streets in downtown Columbia will be blocked off for the Bass, Barbecue & Bands festival, a free family-friendly event. Throughout the weekend, 12,500 guests are estimated to attend the event.


Connecticut Convention Center’s award-winning catering team works closely with clients to transform visions into memorable culinary experiences. The center’s 40,000-square-foot ballroom hosts many of Hartford’s largest fundraisers, including an annual event hosted by Eastern Connecticut Health Network. The 2013 event drew more than 500 guests who enjoyed entrecote au poivre and sorrel-encrusted salmon with a beurre blanc sauce that complemented the Paris-themed gala. The center has more than 140,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and is connected to the Hartford Marriott Downtown.

Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC) in New Jersey is a regional hub that served as home base for FEMA, Red Cross and state and local emergency services following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The ACCC features 500,000 sq. ft. of contiguous event space and five second-floor exhibit halls that range in size from 29,400 to 199,500 sq. ft. There are 45 meetings rooms that surround the atrium lobby. A pedestrian bridge links the center to the 502-room Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel.


Puerto Rico Convention Center, located in the heart of San Juan, is the largest conference venue in the region, with more than 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. There’s a 152,700-square-foot exhibit hall, a 39,500-square-foot ballroom and an outdoor terrace. International Pharmaceutical Expo will take place at the convention center Oct. 16-17 and is expected to draw attendees from throughout the world. The 2013 event attracted 5,420 industry professionals.

Main image: New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Las Vegas Doubles Down on Meetings

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas is all-in for meetings. In April, the AAA Four Diamond property announced a $66 million expansion plan that will increase its Mandalay Bay Convention Center to more than 2 million sq. ft. There will be an addition of more than 350,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space as well as underground parking and more carpeted ballroom space.

Already a major event player, Mandalay Bay Convention Center will rank No. 5 for both total space and exhibition space among North American meeting venues. Construction will begin in late fall and is expected to be complete by January 2016. The resort is one of 14 Las Vegas properties under parent company  MGM Resorts International.

The new exhibit space will be available in August 2015. Featuring a 70,000-square-foot ballroom that is divisible by five, the new space will allow for maximum flexibility and more breakout areas for corporate groups. The bandwidth of the convention center’s state-of-the-art technology also will increase to accommodate more attendees and to allow for the most advanced presentations.

Sister property MGM Grand Hotel & Casino features the 16,800-seat MGM Grand Arena, which hosts concerts and sports events. The property also includes the 1,951-seat KA Theater, which is home to the popular Cirque du Soleil show; the 746-seat Hollywood Theater, stage for legendary magician David Copperfield; and Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club, which can seat 250. The 380,000-square-foot conference center offers balance to the event space.

The Venetian and The Palazzo offer a mind-boggling 7,000 guest suites and more than 2.25 million sq. ft. of meeting space. Their shared congress center features an 85,000-square-foot ballroom, with an additional 298 meeting rooms. The two hotels combined to form the largest green-certified hotel property in the world. The adjacent Sands Expo features 1.9 million sq. ft. of meeting exhibition space. With nearly 40 onsite F&B options, more than 130 shops, live entertainment and Canyon Ranch SpaClub, this property is popular with meeting attendees.

International Favorites

SSE Hydro arena, Glasgow, Scotland

SSE Hydro arena, Glasgow, Scotland

London has established itself as a world technology leader and its marquee venue, ExCeL London Exhibition and Convention Centre, will be showcased this month when Technology Week takes place June 16–20. Internet World is expected to take over ExCeL’s more than 1 million sq. ft. of exhibition space June 17–19.

“For events such as Internet World, ExCeL’s proximity to [East] London’s Tech City ensures that meetings held there have a vast pool of potential delegates and sponsors right on the doorstep,” says Chris FJ Lynn, vice president of sales and marketing for North America & Emerging Markets at London & Partners.

The venue has piled up awards, including Europe’s Leading Meetings & Conference Centre for four straight years presented by the World Travel Awards.

Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow, Scotland, features two Foster + Partner-designed buildings, which will be on display this year during the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. The newly opened 13,000-seat SSE Hydro arena will host judo, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing, netball, weightlifting and powerlifting during the Commonwealth Games, which run July 23–Aug. 3. The SECC, which features a 239,000-square-foot exhibition hall, will serve as the main media hub. The Ryder Cup golf competition opening celebrations will take place Sept. 25.

“Events really matter to Glasgow,” says Kathleen Warden, conference sales director at the SECC. “The Commonwealth Games will give us a chance to show our qualities to the world. We’re perfectly placed to host the Games this summer. We’re an accessible destination with plenty of hotel stock, an abundance of attractions and a welcoming population that values its visitors.”

Three Smart Meetings favorites in Canada are Vancouver Convention Centre, Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Palais des congres de Montreal. Vancouver’s venue is the world’s first LEED Platinum-certified convention center, with 466,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 53,000-square-foot ballroom. The Telus, located in the heart of downtown, has more than 1.2 million sq. ft. of flexible meeting and convention space. The Montreal convention center, a leading technological and green venue, has 498,874 sq. ft. of exhibition space and 113 meeting rooms.