by Alex Palmer | June 01, 2015

Business Connection
Connection to downtown business can offer meeting groups value as well. This is the approach being taken by the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, MN, which recently broke ground on its $85-million expansion, which will double the size of the current facility (home of the Mayo Clinic and Destination Medical) and offer expansive meeting space once it opens in 2017. It connects to almost 2,100 hotel rooms (including the new 270-room Hilton), the popular Peace Plaza, and a wealth of shops via climate-controlled skyways, and is directly connected to cultural centers like the Rochester Civic Theatre and Rochester Art Center. But its business connections are some of its greatest benefits.

According to Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau, the center's connection to the Mayo Clinic means that it "is able to provide an innovative environment with ongoing development for visitors -- including resources like the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program, and the Mayo Clinic Multidisciplinary Simulation Center."

He adds that the Mayo Civic Center further integrates with the local economy by inviting Rochester businesses to bid on catering and services for meetings and events.

In this approach, the civic center is taking a page from the new Cleveland Convention Center, located in the middle of that city's downtown, but also adjacent to the Global Center for Health Innovation -- a four-floor exhibition on the future of healthcare and a major attraction for groups involved in that industry.

"[Convention] centers are obviously big economic generators for their respective cities, but they go well beyond that. They provide the destination with a capability to host events that bring knowledge, business activity, publicity, and even investment to a city, and when these correspond to local economic and community development priorities, they become big supporters of public policy," says AIPC's Donaghy. "This all helps to generate the kind of local appreciation and support that in turn makes the destination more attractive to organizers and delegates, so in the end everyone benefits."

Gene Sanders, senior vice president of trade shows and conferences of the trade association Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), has found convention centers to be key facilitators in connecting with the wider business community in the area. In April, the organization held its annual trade show in Orlando, at the Orange County Convention Center, with more than 65,000 attendees. They worked to bring local organizations into the event to see what was new in the industry.

"We had a multitude of events that we hosted or got sponsors for, including a 3D-printing demonstration, an early morning event with Walmart that drew 700 people, and a Future Leaders in Plastics event," says Sanders.

They also showcased a number of innovations in recycling plastics, creating a "Zero Waste Zone," and even held a fashion show where models wore stylish outfits constructed from recycled plastics. Students from the Orlando area were invited to join and learn about these initiatives.

"The goal is to expand the experience people have from the tradeshow floor and vendor meetings," says Sanders. "From the community, we invited in all the dignitaries, mayor, senator, and other people to show what our industry means to who there are."

The Gaillard Center will serve as a major
meeting and cultural hub for Charleston, SC,
when it opens later this year.

On a smaller scale, The Gaillard Center, a convention and performance center opening in Charleston, SC, later this year, will include a 16,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 7,300-square-foot lawn, and an 1,800-seat performance hall that will play host to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the city's famed Spoleto Festival. The central location of the Gaillard is the focus of the venue's identity -- it bills itself as "the beating heart and thrumming soul" of the city, "the epicenter of inspiration, imagination, and collaboration," and "the hub for driving business."

The Gaillard will be about a five-minute walk from many of the city's hotels, including the 155-room Dewberry Hotel, which is slated to open later this year, as well as shopping areas and attractions.

"It makes for a very central location with an option for many to not depend on cars or buses," says the Gaillard's executive director, Doerte McManus. "It allows business to pitch new business and conduct existing business where Charleston is its most beautiful."

The public/private, $142-million center will be the largest construction project in the city's history and McManus expects it to generate $39 million annually. Larger conventions than were manageable in the city are now scheduled through 2018.