New Destination Chief, Bigger Convention Center to Bring San Jose New Competitive Edge

The city of San Jose, CA, with a new chief executive leading its convention management organization, is recommitting its efforts on the midsize association convention market amid a just-approved plan to upgrade and expand its convention center. 

Four weeks at the helm of Team San Jose, which runs the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, freshly minted CEO William “Bill” Sherry is confident that the 125,000-square-foot facility expansion, due out summer 2013, will bring back much competitiveness in the destination’s bids for national association business once the building has a total of 550,000 square feet of usable space. The expansion will add 35,000 square feet of ballroom space and 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, while the rest of the addition will involve prefunction space and back-of-house area. 

Accompanying Sherry’s recent visit to Successful Meetings’ offices in New York for a meet-and-greet, Diana Ponton, Team San Jose’s vice president of sales and marketing, noted that the $120 million project, which is being funded by a city bond sale, will place the convention center in the mix with those of San Diego, Phoenix, Portland, and Seattle. “It will enable us to host larger and also multiple groups at the same time,” Ponton remarked. The convention center is backed by 861 connected guest rooms between the San Jose Marriott (506 rooms) and the Hilton San Jose (355 rooms). 

The project also will refresh existing spaces in the current building, while the new building, which will be attached, will rest on the footprint of the to-be-demolished former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Sherry and Ponton acknowledged that some of the existing spaces are “dated” and ensured that booked convention groups and potential ones over the next two years will encounter minimal construction impact. 

Sherry, who had been a Team San Jose board member for three years, takes over the organizational reins after longtime CEO Dan Fenton stepped down at the end of January. There were reports of budget problems and overspending with the organization, but Sherry said he is going into the job with no preconceived notions. With the convention center getting the expansion green light, he was brought in by the city because of his history of leading civil expansion and renovation projects; as director, he led Mineta San Jose International Airport’s new expansion involving the $1.3 billion Terminal B—a project that came in $140 million under budget. 

In addition, the city has reorganized Team San Jose’s board of directors with which Sherry will work, and he has two new sales executives, including Chicago-based Kim Augustyn, national sales manager, who will focus on midwestern U.S. association and corporate groups. 

Sherry also revealed to Successful Meetings that part of his role will also be to re-evaluate certain aspects of city’s single-minded approach to managing not only its convention center but also its cultural and performing arts facilities under Team San Jose. In 1998, the city came up with the concept of allowing stakeholders from the area’s hotel, labor, arts and culture, and business sectors to steer the city’s convention business as one, through Team San Jose as its board of directors. 

“I’m not going to re-engineer parts of Team San Jose that are working well, but the city is asking me to look at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts and other cultural venues,” Sherry said. “Is Team San Jose the best management for those? I don’t know; we’ll look at them. We may jettison certain parts so that we can become more focused [on the convention center].” 

To spark business, Team San Jose is offering free convention center rentals for up to three days, including no-cost Wi-Fi in public areas, coffee service for group staff, housing registration for groups using at least three hotels, move-ins and outs, and tables, chairs, linens, water services, microphones, podiums, pens, and pads. Contracts must be signed by December 31 for groups visiting before December 31, 2014, for the deal to be honored.