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Pennsylvania Convention Center plans for summer grand opening

Pennsylvania Convention Center

The $787 million expansion, completed on time and on budget, is the largest public works project ever undertaken by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Since March 4, 2011, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority (PCCA) has been out of the construction business and immersed in the hospitality business. Boasting one million square feet of usable space and the largest contiguous exhibition space in the northeastern United States, the Convention Center now offers a best-in-class experience for meetings, tradeshows and conventions.

A ribbon-cutting to commemorate the official opening of the expanded space took place on March 4 in the grand entrance on North Broad Street. An official, national grand opening is slated for June 2011. A highly competitive RFP process in 2010 resulted in the selection of Albrecht Events, LLC and Stockton and Partners Inc. to co-produce the national grand opening events. The companies are well-known in the region for creating and executing meetings and special events for corporations, trade associations, non-profits, pharmaceutical companies, universities and cultural organizations.

The $787 million expansion, completed on time and on budget, is the largest public works project ever undertaken by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and launches a new phase in the development of the Philadelphia region’s burgeoning hospitality industry. With the capability to host two conventions simultaneously, the PCCA expects visitor traffic to soar to an estimated 1.5 million per year. Research estimates the building’s expanded capacity will create 2,000 hospitality industry jobs, generate $10 million in income tax revenue for Pennsylvania, and contribute $150 million annually to the regional economy.

“Philadelphia has an amazing opportunity to become the standard bearer for the hospitality and tourism industry,” said Ahmeenah Young, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. “Our ongoing focus is to make sure that the experience each group, attendee and exhibitor has in the Philadelphia region exceeds their greatest expectations.”

Along with significantly increasing local and regional hotel stays and driving the construction of new lodging, the presence of additional attendees will have a positive, measurable impact on the Convention Center District’s nearby communities and attractions. The PCCA owns the adjacent historic Reading Terminal Market and borders Philadelphia’s bustling Chinatown, both of which offer hours of discovery.

Of particular note is the facility’s dramatic new atrium on North Broad Street, which strategically places the Convention Center “In the Heart of it All” and within walking distance of countless shopping, dining and cultural enrichment destinations. The magnificent Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is just across the street with its new Lenfest Plaza, literally paving the way to Philadelphia’s Parkway Museums District. Heading north, the building provides a fresh and modern path up North Broad Street to Temple University.

“The work we’re doing is rippling out and having a positive impact on our neighbors,” said Thomas A. Riley Jr., chairman of the PCCA’s Board of Directors. “Everything we do is designed to strengthen our business model, support sales efforts, impact the Philadelphia region’s hotel occupancy, increase patronage of businesses, and create stellar conventioneer experiences.”

Efforts to book the Convention Center are ongoing and encouraging, especially in the current economy. Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PCVB), the major sales and marketing partner for the PCCA, has already booked significant business through 2020.

“We are taking our level of customer service to greater heights with the opening of an expanded Convention Center,” said Jack Ferguson, president and CEO, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The entire city is rolling out the welcome mat. Customers from across the country are buzzing about Philadelphia and expansion. We already have $2.7 billion in future expansion business on the books. On behalf of our 1,000-member businesses we want to offer our congratulations to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the staff of the Pennsylvania Convention Center for delivering a world-class venue for our customers.”

The Convention Center has made immediate use of the new spaces. On March 9, the building welcomed simultaneous occupancy by the Philadelphia International Flower Show and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) convention, which brought with it 3,000 attendees and 8,920 room nights. Following NASPA, from March 18-24, is the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). AORN is the first convention to use the entire expanded building, with 14,000 attendees and 27,026 room nights. Combined, these conventions will generate more than $40 million in economic impact in March.

Inside the Convention Center, change is also evident. Customer interaction refresher programs are planned for the entire workforce and other on-site support personnel. One of the primary goals of the expansion was to position the facility as the most customer-centered, customer-friendly, technologically advanced convention center of its size. All functional areas have been enhanced, enlarged and empowered to handle the maximum capacity of the building with ease.

After completing a thorough feasibility study that guided the expansion team’s plans, the entire kitchen facility was gutted and rebuilt. The new kitchen is furnished with computerized, automatic fixtures and culinary equipment that can design recipes to maximize food production and efficiency as well as cater to varying demographics, tastes, and food requests. With an eye to food safety, the kitchen’s cook-chill capability has also increased, allowing the preparation of large volumes of fresh food that can be cooled in record speed, then cryo-vacuumed for later use. Multiple biological high-tech units, which break down raw food product into drainable liquid, have been installed as a green efficiency measure to greatly reduce trash extraction and operating costs. The dining function remains under the management of ARAMARK/SFS, the only convention center food service company to receive the National Association of Culinary Executives Award.

Show managers will enjoy meaningful technology upgrades throughout the Convention Center’s footprint, including a five-fold increase in building-wide digital signage, VOIP-enabled show floors, multiple telephone extensions during an event, voicemail and an expanded wireless network available throughout the facility, one gigabyte digital bandwidth available to exhibitors and planners, and a total upgrade to the internal computer network. Previously deployed amenities remain available, including a range of full-service audio/visual services, paperless registration, video and audio webcasting, sessions on-demand and video distribution.

“The expansion will help to make Philadelphia one of the top cities in the country, a premier city,” said Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia Mayor. “I’m tremendously excited – not just for the city, but the region. More conventions and more businesses will be compelled to come.”


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