Generally speaking, there aren’t many cities in which the neighborhood surrounding the convention center is an exciting place to dine, shop, or go out on the town. An exception is Long Beach, CA, which has been steadily improving the area around the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center for years.
Location Is Everything
The center is in a good position on the waterfront, across from Rainbow Harbor’s marinas, water taxis, and charter- and dinner-cruise docks. To say nothing of the retail and dining districts of Shoreline Village, The Pike at Rainbow Harbor—known for its Ferris wheel—and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
But now, nurtured and invested in for years, the neighborhoods behind and around Long Beach’s convention center are making what was always a pleasantly walkable downtown neighborhood even more of an attraction for groups.
“The arena and convention center are all one complex, and right around that we have about 100 restaurants in an eight-block radius,” says Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have this nice layer of blocks that continues to get developed outward from the convention center. The streets don’t roll up at night because we have residents living downtown, and therefore businesses stay open in the evening.”
Developing neighborhoods in this part of the city are Downtown—to the west of the convention center—and the East Village Arts District to the southeast. The East Village is home to several hotels, notably the Courtyard Marriott Long Beach, the Westin Long Beach, and the Best Western of Long Beach.
It is also a residential and commercial area reminiscent of New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, says Goodling. “There’s a new wine bar and retailer, and several restaurants that have patio dining. The Courtyard Marriott is opening up a new restaurant with sliding glass doors that open out onto patio dining. The entire East Village Arts District is continuing its resurrection as an eclectic area to shop and to dine.”
A well-lit pedestrian and mass transit mall along First Street anchors Downtown’s walking, dining, and shopping core for some five blocks west of the convention center, running near the Westin Long Beach and Marriott’s Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, two of the city’s anchor convention hotels. The mall also runs past Promenade Square, a park that is a good special events venue since it has all the necessary electrical power. There is a new $15-million mixed-use development with bars and restaurants abutting it, and a bicycle parking and rental facility on one end helps attract locals. The area is also home to cultural attractions, including theaters and the Long Beach Opera and Long Beach Symphony Orchestra.
“When you’re here, you can take in the waterfront views but also enjoy an urban, downtown environment,” Goodling says.
Long Beach Airport is in the midst of a $136-million expansion project that will add a new terminal with more gates and a concourse with a central garden, as well as ramp improvements and a new parking garage. The project, set for completion in 2013, will maintain the original terminal, attaching it to the new one and blending the two with a mid-century design.
In October, the Long Beach Marriott finished a $10-million renovation of the ground floor public spaces, including $6 million spent overhauling the decor and technology in all ballrooms, the six adjacent meeting rooms, and the function area restrooms. It also created a new 1,800-square-foot outdoor function space next to the meeting rooms and added four meeting rooms. The size of the fitness center doubled to 1,700 square feet.
The next phase of renovations at the Marriott will include an overhaul of the main lobby and a new bar and restaurant. These follow a 2010 renovation of the guest rooms.
The Hyatt Regency Long Beach launched a $21-million renovation project in October, replacing furniture, carpet, wall coverings, and window treatments in the 528 guest rooms, suites, and corridors. All bathrooms will also receive a complete overhaul, as will the in-room HVAC systems.
The 469-room Westin Long Beach began a renovation in November, which will include replacing the carpet and furniture in the lobby and restaurant. The first half of a total room renovation is also underway, set for completion in February; the second half will be completed between November 2012 and February 2013.
After that, work on the meeting space, elevators, and pool deck will begin.