Planners Rave About Puerto Rico Center

Published Jan. 30, 2006 in MeetingNews -- The much-anticipated Puerto Rico Convention Center opened in November, and meeting planners familiar with it are using words like "incredible" and "state of the art" to describe the new, 580,000-square-foot landmark in San Juan.

Bruce Smith's Westville Enterprises will produce the Caribbean Gaming and Hospitality Conference at the PRCC in June of 2006 and 2007 — two of approximately 70 events booked so far at the SMG-managed center between now and 2008. "This is truly a 21st century convention and exposition hall," he said. "In terms of technology and ease-of-use, it's as good or better than anything in North America."

There are fiber-optic broadband and wireless Internet access throughout the facility, as well as videoconferencing, satellite uplink and downlink capability, and simultaneous-translation services — the latter a must in bilingual Puerto Rico. Floor boxes in the Exhibition Hall not only control lighting and electric but also utilities like water and waste return.

Smith praised a design that includes a loading dock that runs the full length of the exhibition hall, with three huge, ramped entryways allowing exhibitors to bring in even the largest displays. The exhibition hall is 152,700 square feet (divisible into thirds); the center also has a 39,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom and 36,400 square feet of additional meeting space, including 15 meeting rooms that can be divided into 28 breakouts.

Reed Exhibitions has committed to hosting its regional Interphex pharmaceutical meeting and several smaller satellite events at the PRCC for the next few years, beginning in February. "We consider San Juan the next Las Vegas," said Kevin Richards, vice president of the Reed Life Sciences Group, citing the synergies between the PRCC and the city's culture, infrastructure and ease of access. "It's like going to Orlando or Miami."

Presently, the 646-room Caribe Hilton and other nearby properties are providing accommodations for meeting attendees, but plans are on the boards for a 500-room Sheraton headquarters hotel adjacent to the PRCC, opening in 2008.

"The design elements of the convention center give visitors a sense of the history, culture and natural beauty of Puerto Rico," said Ana Maria Viscasillas, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau.

Many of the first-year bookings at the center are local events such as the Puerto Rico Restaurant Show and the San Juan Bride Fest. But the Caribbean Hotel Association Marketplace 2006 was expected to draw about 3,000 international attendees Jan. 15-17, and about 2,500 are expected for Interphex next month.

For many, the sheer size of the PRCC may be the biggest draw. "This place will put Puerto Rico on the map for medium-sized conventions," Richards said. Interphex had outgrown the Caribe Hilton, for example, while the Caribbean Hotel Association welcomed the opportunity to move its annual marketplace from a downtown San Juan coliseum.

"Nowhere else in Puerto Rico could handle the trade-show aspects of the event," said Vanessa Ledesma, director of conferences and events for the CHA. "We were able to do it at the coliseum, but it was a lot of work."

With 3,000 attendees and 420 exhibitors, the marketplace has had an extremely limited choice of venues in the past; in the region, only the Cancun Convention Center is really large enough to accommodate the meeting, said Ledesma. A few years back, organizers resorted to using a 48,000-square-foot tent when they held the event in Jamaica.

"The PRCC brings more opportunity for the region to host events," Ledesma said.