by Ron Donoho | June 05, 2017

No convention center should be an island. More and more, new exhibition and conference space is being unveiled with walking-distance accessibility to hotels, restaurants, and other attractions. Whether you call it density or call it smart growth, it's being well-received and planners are happy to take advantage of the new offerings. There are tight convention packages all over the country. Some are long established, others are relatively new, and some are construction projects that are on the drawing board or currently under way.

Look no further than Miami Beach. City planners and convention authorities are aiming to both upgrade the Miami Beach Convention Center and make the surrounding area more appealing to locals. It makes sense. Slated to be completed in 2018, the $515 million renovation in Miami Beach will create a 1.4 million-square-foot, LEED-certified facility with 150,000 square feet of new space. Upon completion, the area just outside the center will complement the convention experience, with plans for a food pavilion, a public park with flexible-use lawn area, and a veteran's memorial, among other amenities aimed at mixed use by both locals and visitors.

The Monterey Conference Center is
completing a $60 million renovation

What are some general benefits of a pedestrian-friendly convention district? Mark McMinn, vice president of sales for the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, in California, offers this list:

} Keep the networking going. Having attendees close to the meeting site fosters interaction.

} If more options for sanctioned networking are closer to the meeting site, that saves on transportation.

} In any setting, there is safety in numbers.

} It offers more and unusual ways to "brand" the district specifically for the meeting.

} Shopper and restaurant discounts are usually available for attendees -- just flash your badge.

} Proximity to a convention center allows you to create merchant awareness with signage that makes attendees feel welcome.

} Being "green" means there's little or no need for cars and buses, since there's plenty to do around the facility.

McMinn's list hits the nail on the head. Meeting planners and destination representatives around the country agree. But there are certain steps planners should take to get the full benefits of these burgeoning convention-center districts. Here we offer some best practices that wise planners will want to follow.


Let's Do Lunch
"We definitely seek out pedestrian-friendly venues," says Lori Smith, director of conventions and meetings for the Sacramento-based California Association of School Business Officials. "Most of our folks fly or drive to our meetings and just want to check into the hotel and not get back into a car or bus."

She points to several benefits of settings such as Long Beach, CA, where her group recently held its "Heart of School Business" meeting. They include discounts on restaurants, dine-around opportunities, and savings on transportation costs. But Smith zeroes in on the networking and interaction that Long Beach facilitates.

The Long Beach Convention
& Entertainment Center is
expanding its turnkey spaces
with The Cove

Her 3,000 attendees come from all over the state and don't necessarily know one another. Many share like jobs in the business end of running schools: directors of transportation, payroll supervisors, child nutrition experts, and other specialties.

"They meet in the workshops and sometimes they continue conversations out in the halls," Smith says. "They're talking and comparing notes, and maybe they say, 'Hey, let's grab a bite to eat.' And they can walk right across the street from the convention center and do that."

She noticed people walking out of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center and heading over to nearby restaurants such as Islands, P.F. Chang's, and Yardhouse. "When the restaurants are convenient and close by, it makes it so much easier to keep the interactions going," Smith says.

The Long Beach convention center is centrally located in the middle of the city's downtown waterfront entertainment district. There are more than 125 restaurants located within an eight-block area around the center. The proximity of the convention center to the city's downtown area, as well as palm-lined pedestrian promenades and pathways that are also bike-friendly, helped get the area onto the list of the "Most Walkable Neighborhoods in America," by WalkScore.com.