Meeting planners and event promoters have long understood the importance of a top-of-the-line convention center—a place that can accommodate thousands of guests if needed without people feeling cramped or running over one another in the halls.
In Pennsylvania, there are five state-of-the-art convention centers that can host everything from a small 20-person meeting to a 5,000-guest concert, and everything in between. And because they all have different rooms available, there could be a wrestling match going on in one part of the building, a pharmaceutical trade show in another and a small gathering of local sports coaches in yet another.
Here is a look at some of the area’s finest convention centers.
BLAIR COUNTY CONVENTION CENTER, ALTOONA
Featuring a 15,000-square-foot ballroom of unobstructed meeting space and 11 breakout rooms, the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona has ample space for meetings of all sizes. There’s also a 24,000-square-foot exhibit hall, ideal for trade shows and special events
“Our ballroom can accommodate up to 1,800 theater-style and over 1,000 for dinner,” says Barry Kumpf, president and CEO of the Blair County Convention Center. “In addition, on the ballroom level we have nine flex space meeting rooms which can accommodate as few as 30 in the smallest room to as many as 175 in the largest room. We also have two 1,150-square-foot meeting rooms on the exhibit hall level.”
The Blair County Convention Center has all the typical convention center amenities as well as robust wireless Internet. Even with close to 8,000 people in attendance last year at a Donald Trump rally, every guest was able to access the internet without complaint.
Other amenities include full-service gourmet banquet facilities, themed cafes and an on-site business resource center. “We believe that what makes us unique is that we have all of the amenities that you would find in a major metropolitan market, but with the charm of a small town,” Kumpf says. “Our guest service is second to none.”
The Blair County Convention Center has experienced significant growth in the number of groups that it serves, with the majority of clients ranging between groups of 300-500 for a multiday meeting, conference or convention. Over the last year, it has successfully hosted professional wrestling, cage fights, concerts, wine tastings, train shows, pet shows and numerous other consumer-type shows.
“We also host concerts and speakers and have a number of social [Christmas parties, wedding receptions, etc.] every year,” Kumpf says. “We are very easy to find. We are conveniently located just about a mile from the Plank Road Exit of Interstate 99. We also have plenty of free parking with nearly 300-surfacelevel parking spaces and nearly 800 parking spaces in all with our adjacent attached parking garage.”
The Altoona gem is also home to awardwinning chef Tom Schilling and his culinary team and the convention center regularly receives hundreds of compliments every year about the quality of its food service. “We are very proud of the product that we deliver,” Kumpf says.
KALAHARI RESORTS AND CONVENTIONS, POCONO MOUNTAINS
For nearly two decades, the Kalahari Resorts convention teams nationwide have leveraged more than 400 years of combined meeting experience to host more than 22,000 groups, resulting in more than 1.4 million group rooms booked.
That experience has made Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos one of the most in-demand convention centers in the state.
“Today, meeting planners want an unparalleled group experience paired with awardwinning amenities and attractions for attendees to enjoy,” says Kevin Shanley, corporate sales and revenue management. “The appeal of mixing work and play is only increasing for meeting attendees. When groups select Kalahari Resorts and Conventions as their location, it’s no longer a meeting someone has to attend; it becomes an experience the whole family gets to attend.”
The facility offers meeting planners abundant, flexible space for both large and small groups, and with an average block pick-up rate of 108 percent, Kalahari has a proven ability to increase meeting attendance by as much as 20 percent.
“What makes our convention center unique is that your meeting or event becomes a destination for the whole family, with the best in entertainment and dining all under one roof,” Shanley says. “In addition to our convention facilities, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos is home to America’s largest indoor water park; Gorilla Grove Treetop Adventures; The Arena, a virtual reality attraction; a worldclass spa and hydro-oasis and more.”
In 2019, the convention facility will grow to 234,000 total square feet, adding 134,000 square feet to its current space. The expansion will feature 21 new meeting rooms—resulting in 39 total meeting spaces. The resort will also add a 38,000-square-foot ballroom and an additional 9,000-square-foot junior ballroom to the existing 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 9,000-square-foot junior ballroom.
Amenities for meeting guests include a dedicated conference services manager; dedicated convention center loading dock; large grade-level access to main exhibit facility; a full-service business center; complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi in all guest rooms, meeting spaces, exhibition areas and common areas; state-of-the-art lighting and A/V controls; numerous built in hi-lumen/Hi-Def projectors and monitors; proprietary HELP phone providing exceptional service throughout meeting and convention space; 10-hour ergonomic convention chairs; and free parking and valet available.
“Kalahari makes event planning a breeze thanks to unparalleled hospitality and executive boardrooms, ballrooms, hospitality suites and outdoor event spaces that allow us to accommodate events of all sizes, from large conventions or trade shows to small meetings, family reunions, sports functions or retreats,” says Shanley.
The convention center also offers ample space to stay, with nearly 1,000 guest rooms of various styles and suites.
The 1,500,000-square-foot David L. Lawrence Convention Center features the largest conference and exhibition space in downtown Pittsburgh, situated along the magnificent Allegheny River.
Overall, there is 313,400 square feet of exhibition space, with approximately 236,900 square feet of column-free space.
“We are able to accommodate groups of 10- 10,000. We have five separate exhibit halls, one ballroom, 51 meeting rooms and two lecture halls,” says Kelli Donahoe, CMP, director of sales and marketing. “Both our main exhibit hall and ballroom have expansive ceiling heights and are column-free, magnifying the sense of space.”
Regular users of the convention space range from tech-focused corporate meetings to large medical associations.
Outdoor space includes the Riverfront Plaza, 1,300 feet of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail featuring over 2,000 trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials; the Green Roof, South Terrace, 20,000 square feet of living roof located on the third floor, featuring over 7,000 perennial, grasses and sedum; and the North Terrace, 60,000 square feet of open outdoor space located on the fourth floor, riverside, featuring Levy Convention Centers’ herb and vegetable gardens.
“Fresh, outdoor air and natural sunlight were an integral part of the design requirements for the DLCC,” Donahoe says. “We were the first gold new construction LEED certified convention center in the world and that makes us unique.”
The center is equipped to provide highdensity wireless convergence that meet the highest demands from interactive keynote sessions to location-based services. It also provides on-site support and the latest in audio and visual equipment.
The Monroeville Convention Center is located in Western Pennsylvania, just east of Pittsburgh, but its convenience to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the tri-state area makes it a popular place in the area to hold a large meeting or event.
Rick Yarosz, general manager, says from inception to execution, the on-site convention center team will assist in planning and hosting everything from consumer and trade shows, meetings and exhibitions to concerts and other entertainment events.
“There’s really nothing like it in the area. We have about 100,000 square feet of space and can host just about anything,” he says. “We have the North Hall, a 45,000-square-foot large hall that is cement floored and is just one big open space, and the South Hall, a smaller space at 35,000 square feet, but carpeted with 12-foot ceilings and breakout rooms.”
“Our partnership with the adjacent DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh - Monroeville grants access to world-class catering, on-campus lodging, rewards benefits and business services,” Yarosz says. “We also offer free parking which is a huge catch and we’re off the Turnpike, which makes it extremely convenient.”
Meeting planners or event specialists looking for small galleries will be pleased with the breakout rooms, which can host gatherings of 25-350, and corporate events and trade shows will be attracted to the large spaces, big enough to hold 3,500 people for a concert or comedy show.
The convention team will provide 400 tenby-10 booths or 500 eight-by-10 booths for a show, PSAV audio-visual services, exterior ticket booths, building-wide Wi-Fi and a 1,150-square-foot kitchen and concession space. The hotel next door can also provide a fully catered menu for full sit-down dinners or buffets.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia is home to approximately 250 events a year, ranging from internationally attended conventions to regional meetings to special events.
“The big draw to our convention center is its location in historic downtown Philly,” says Stephanie Mays Boyd, director of sales and marketing. “Philly also has a number of entertainment, social and cultural aspects to it that are unique in the state, and that brings people in.”
The facility offers more than 679,000 square feet of exhibit hall space with seven halls and 82 meeting rooms, plus the largest ballroom in the Northeast at 55,408 square feet.
“We have some of the best meeting space on the East Coast, and our 82 meeting rooms get used daily on a regular basis,” says Lorenz Hassenstein, general manager. “We have over 530,000 square feet of continuous space, which many planners look for.”
In 2011, the Convention Center underwent a huge expansion and now includes a 23,400-square-foot Broad Street Atrium overlooking the Avenue of the Arts; the Historic Grand Hall, the former Reading Railroad Train Shed; and a ballroom overlooking the Grand Hall totaling 31,512 square feet.
“The building has been dramatically upgraded over time,” Hassenstein says. “The Center’s expansion is LEED-gold certified and we have hundreds of pieces of local art throughout the convention center, so anyone coming from out of state can see a lot of the local art.”
Upgrades continue, with landscaping, the facade, restrooms, carpet and décor currently being worked on to keep everything fresh and new. Hassenstein says that it’s also “far ahead” of other convention centers as far as technology.
The convention center is also walking distance to about a dozen different cultural attractions and many attendees take advantage of all the city of Brotherly Love has to offer.
“Philadelphia is uniquely positioned in the region where we are a four-hour drive from 40 percent of the population in the U.S.,” Hassenstein says. “We have a highly motivated and highly trained staff to both manage the facility and take care of all guests who come through.”