Out-of-the-Box Meetings in Long Beach

A Q&A with Steve Goodling, president and CEO of Long Beach Area CVB

Long Beach Convention Center ballroom

Steve Goodling, president and CEO at Long Beach Area CVB, recently took time to talk to Successful Meetings about adapting meeting space for new generations.

Successful Meetings: You've been buying chandeliers, pingpong tables, and foosball tables. What kind of convention center is this?

Steve Goodling:
 The chandeliers are to "residentialize" the building, which makes it more comfortable as an environment. Our challenge has been, if you build but can't decorate it, you are missing your goal of creating a "wow" experience. All that décor costs money to rent and a lot of our national associations are nonprofits, and they don't have large budgets. So in order to meet our "wow" objective, we need to provide a basic level of ambient experiences: the firepits, the cabanas, the white furniture, full-grown trees, etc.

The LED pingpong tables I found at a trade show, loved them, and bought four. It's about Millennials -- they want games. If you go to Google's campus or any other campus in the Bay Area, [those game elements] are all over. But most of our folks come from small and medium-sized towns across the U.S. where they may not have LED pingpong tables at home. And they love it.

SM: What gave you the idea?
 We were home to the TED conference for five years. And we learned a lot from it. One year before the conference, the TED planner said to me, "We'd like to use the arena for a party." I'm thinking to myself, "It's a hockey arena; you go in and you have 13,000 seats." But I said, "We'll support you. If you want the arena, it's yours."

The following year, we go into the arena where TED had brought in pipe and drape that was so tall you couldn't see the seats, with really cool lighting that they hung from ceiling fixtures, and white lounge furniture. It looked like a really cool New York loft--style party.

So Charlie [Charles Beirne, general manager, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center] and I thought: "Our clients need a larger space than our current ballroom. What if we created a venue like TED created for that night, where we have drapes coming from the ceiling, and we create a truss system for the lighting so that it too comes down from the ceiling?"

SM: How much money did it take to turn a hockey arena into the Pacific Room?
 The Pacific Room, the first adaptive reuse project that we did, was a $10 million investment and we've booked $120 million of new convention business.

Planners are looking for venues with what they call "total packaging." All they have to do is show up and tell us what color lights they want, where they want attendees focused, and that's it. When you come to our space, you can use all the assets -- the drapes, the curtains, the lighting, the rigging, the sound system; even the globe lights that would cost $400 each if you were to rent them.  

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the January 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.