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Facilities Update
Pasadena Convention Center A Unique Success In Convention Business


It wasn't long ago that the Pasadena Convention Center was considered to be little more than a community center with low-profile events.

But in the five years since undergoing a major $162 million renovation and expansion to bring new life to the city's civic center, the 41-year-old Pasadena Convention Center has evolved into a full-service convention, meeting and events complex. It continues to outperform financial, occupancy and attendance expectations, surviving and thriving during the economic recession that came just as the new center reopened in March 2009.

During the past year, the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau booked 38,508 room nights for 2013-2014 and the future, or 104 percent of the Pasadena Center Operating Company's annual goal. The total also was 5,608 more room nights than were booked during the previous year. Moreover, Pasadena hotel occupancy has grown from 63.6 percent capacity at the end of 2009 to this year's 84.2 percent occupancy rate through June.

In meeting its $7.9 million revenue goal for 2013-2014, the fact that the center's operating revenues exceeded operating expenses is news in itself, given that municipalities frequently subsidize convention center operations to help drive their hotel and restaurant businesses.

"The success of the Pasadena Convention Center has been a boon to the city in terms of hotel occupancy, additional business and a boost in overall tourism," says Michael Ross, chief executive officer of the Pasadena Center Operating Company, which includes the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But we've been very successful on our own, bringing new, higher quality events to the city. This has boosted our reputation in the convention and events business and has also helped us to build new collaborative relationships and partnerships throughout the community and beyond."

Reopened six weeks in advance of its expected completion date and under its construction budget, the Convention Center sits at the heart of the complex that also includes the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium and the Pasadena Ice Skating Center. The renovated state-of-the art center now features a 55,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall, a 25,000-sq. ft. ballroom and 28 meeting rooms, along with the 3,000-seat Civic Auditorium and a 22,000-sq. ft. outdoor plaza. Through concerted environmental efforts, the facility earned Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it one of the greenest convention centers in North America.

Once a small, underperforming event facility, today the Pasadena Convention Center is a highly desirable convention destination, as evidenced by the number of high-quality conventions, trade and consumer shows, meetings and other events that fill its halls.

"The original idea of the expansion was to move from smaller 'mom and pop' type of events and into bigger, more lucrative conventions to generate a significant return on investment to the community in terms of shopping, dining and specifically lodging," says Ross. "Because of all of its amenities and venues, Pasadena's strength is in its ability to attract major scientific conferences and architecture events, as well as regional, statewide and national conventions."

More than the number of events that fill the convention halls and meeting rooms is the quality of the events locating in Pasadena and the associated number of local hotel rooms that they help to fill. For example, the Great Minds in STEM Conference will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center in October 2015 and will occupy more than 4,000 hotel room nights throughout the city. The American Phytopathological Society will hold its 2015 annual meeting in Pasadena, booking more than 3,300 hotel room nights. And the American Choral Directors Association Western Division Conference is expected to fill more than 2,300 hotel room nights in February 2016. The Garden Writers Association is expected to fill more than 1,200 rooms for its annual symposium in September 2015 and the California Association of School Business Officials will exceed 1,350 room nights in April 2016.

"These and other new upcoming events have a wide level of interest and will attract visitors to Pasadena, boosting local tourism and our city's economy by filling hotel rooms, restaurants and stores," Ross says.  "We're seeing more and more interesting and impactful meetings, conferences and special events choose the Pasadena Convention Center or the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The future is bright for the Pasadena Center Operating Company, because the center has a good book of business for several years in advance and the Pasadena Ice Skating Center is outperforming expectations for revenue and attendance." 

Ross says the Pasadena Center Operating Company must continue to generate the necessary revenue to cover the construction project's debt service payment, while helping the city recover from losses in transit occupancy taxes (TOT) and tourism business improvement district (TBID) funding during the economic recession. From 2009-2013, Pasadena's TOT and TBID saw a dip of almost 27 percent, or $3.65 million from original 2006 projections, while the Convention Center's construction debt service escalated by more than $2.1 million because of the auction rate bond market fallout.

"With prudent management and experienced board oversight, the PCOC has been able to right the ship financially without the aid of a General Fund subsidy from the city of Pasadena," Ross said. "Operating revenue has exceeded operating expenses by more than $2 million in each of the past three years, which is unprecedented in the convention center business."

For more information, contact the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 307-7977 or visit www.VisitPasadena.com .
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