Interview with Matt Pizzuti, Interim Executive Director – Oregon Convention Center
What is the history of the Oregon Convention Center?
The Oregon Convention Center, which is located in downtown Portland, opened in September of 1990. The construction was financed by local property taxes from the Portland metropolitan area. In 2003, the facility expanded to double is original size and now ranks as the 55th largest convention center in the U.S. It is one-of-two convention centers in the U.S to achieve the LEED Platinum facility rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The center hosts about 400 events annually – 45 of which are major conventions. In addition, the facility hosts dozens of local consumer-related events, trade shows, meetings, and dinners.
What are the unique features of your facility?
The convention center was designed for maximum flexibility and is comprised of 18 primary blocks that can be combined in various configurations as required by our clients. The main exhibit hall is 255,000 square feet of unobstructed space interrupted only by two columns. There are five different halls that can either be combined or separated by air walls. The two large ballrooms - the Portland Ballroom (34,000 square feet) and the Oregon Ballroom (25,000 square feet), can be divided into multiple sections of various size – even into 52 separate meeting rooms.
For the convenience of attendees, there are several hotels close to the facility. Just across the street, a 600-room Hyatt Regency Hotel is under construction, which will become the primary headquarter hotel for many of our large conventions.
Can you highlight the services you provide?
Unlike many other large convention centers, the Oregon Convention Center employs its own service staff rather than relying on outside vendors. We have our own electricians, audiovisual (AV) team, and telecom department. The staff can provide virtually any services required by show managers and exhibitors. The building has a very advanced Wi-Fi system that is able to handle up to 10,000 users, and we are process of installing a new, distributed antenna system to improve our cell service.
Portland is very much a food and beverage-centric city. Chef Allan Wambaa, who has been with us for nearly five years, is a distinguished chef who cooks excellent and healthy meals for a variety of different budgets. We have recently installed our own pastry shop with a full-service pastry kitchen. The center offers a variety of concessions including an excellent restaurant.
What are the local attractions in Portland for conventioneers?
Portland has an excellent public transportation system. Our light rail train, the MAX, is available for conventioneers arriving at the airport to ride directly to the center and nearby hotels. Each registered convention guest receives a MAX pass that they can use during their stay. The pass is effective for the MAX, street cars, and buses.
In terms of accommodation, there are about 50 hotels in the downtown Portland area with easy access to public transportation. Within walking distance of the convention center, there are more than 1,000 rooms available including the Eastlund Hotel right across the street from us.
What kind of events are hosted at your convention center?
The Portland center host a wide variety of events. We host many corporate events, association trade shows, and government seminars. Even religious conferences seem to favor the center. The two groups with which we do particularly well are scientific and educational associations.
Since the Open Source convention, OSCON, became popular 15 years ago, Portland has been a preferred location. PyCon, which is the Python software developer’s conference, is one of these events. During the event, there are as many as 8,000 Wi-Fi devices online at any one time, and the center is able to handle the load.
What are the minimum and maximum attendees that you handle?
Well in terms of minimum, we have had board meetings for as few as 10 people. On the other hand, largest convention we have ever done was the Craft Brewers Association in 2015. They had 11,500 people at the event from all over the nation.
What are the advantages of having a specialized in-house staff?
The real advantage of a professional in-house staff is knowledge of the facility. Our in-house teams work in the building every day and know our systems. Whether it is the telecom, audiovisual (AV), or kitchen facility, our full-time staff is on call 24 x 7, where most contractors are required to work within the contracted hours of the show.
As another example, our in-house AV team provides operational services as part of the cost of renting the equipment. Third party vendors would typically charge an additional fee for this service.
The Portland center has over 1,200 full-time employees, as well as 300 or 400 part-timers. For the PyCon event, we have prepared breakfast and lunch for 3,500. That requires a total of 320 servers. Before such an event, our customer advisory staff, along with our local convention visitor’s bureau, Travel Portland, spend time with the event planner to ensure that the attendees enjoy their stay in Portland.
What are your future developmental plans for the convention center?
We have found that conventioneers want to have more interactive meetings and spaces where they can have face-to-face meetings. So, we plan to turn some of our spaces into places that can accommodate more personal interactions – we refer to it as “third space.” The idea is to utilize lobbies and other under-utilized spaces. We will have laptop lounges and little gathering areas where people can plug in, get online, and do what they need to do. The effort will be part of our $35 million renovation plan for the coming years.
What do you foresee as concerns for the future?
I believe technology is always going to evolve; if your site does not keep up with advances in technology, you are going to be left behind. In planning for the future, you have to make sure that your facility, including technology, flexible space, and services, continues to be up-to-date and meet the needs of event planners.
Another major concern today for convention planners is security. Reflecting the unfortunate acts that we have seen around the world, we have undertaken a number of efforts to improve the centers safety. In addition to installing a security camera, monitoring system, we have built a strong relationship between the local police and security teams to share information and protect our neighborhood.
How did you achieve the LEED Platinum status?
Portland formed a three-city alliance with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee over 10 years ago to focus on sustainability. We started our LEED journey when we expanded the facility in 2003 and we received our originally certificate in 2004.
In 2008, we attained the silver level, and then in 2014 we re-certified again and we were able to achieve the Platinum level - which is not an easy task. It is not just about the building or how it was built, but how the building is operated.
The U.S Green Building Council evaluated every aspect of the Oregon Convention Center like how much power is consumed, what energy conservation systems are in place, and what waste conversion plan is being followed. They also give points for how we manage staff transportation to and from work.
After completed lighting project, we were able to reduce our energy consumption from over nine million kilowatt hours to under seven million. That is a real money saver. We also initiated a waste conversion policy a couple of years ago and, as a result, we eliminated products such as foam core signage which are not recyclable.
Being LEED certified has been a differentiator, not just for our building, but for the entire Portland community; and, it shows that with strong local commitment we can be a leader in the environmental movement.
About Events In America
EventsInAmerica.com is the number one source of trade show information in the U.S. Launched in 2008, the site maintains comprehensive profiles on more than 3,000 trade shows and 1,000 venues, providing search and networking tools for event managers, venue operators, and attendees.
About the Oregon Convention Center
The Oregon Convention Center is owned by Metro and managed by the Metro Exposition and Recreation Commission. OCC is a LEED Platinum certified facility hosting groups from around the world and bringing millions of dollars into the Portland and Oregon economy.