Expanding Horizons...and a Convention Center: New Possibilities for Business Event Strategists & Opportunities for the Local Economy

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<span>Expanding Horizons...and a Convention Center: New Possibilities for Business Event Strategists & Opportunities for the Local Economy</span>

By: Mya Surrency, Co-Founder, Digital Edge & Sonya Bradley, Chief Diversity Officer, Visit Sacramento

Learn how Visit Sacramento's new SAFE Credit Union Convention Center expanded space and possibilities for business event strategists & the local community.

When it comes to a destination’s meetings product, oftentimes, residents do not engage much with the local convention center and meeting facilities, which creates a gap around their support for the meetings and convention industry locally.

Sonya Bradley, Chief Diversity Officer for Visit Sacramento, and Mya Surrency, co-founder of meetings marketing agency Digital Edge, share a case study on Sacramento’s recent SAFE Credit Union Convention Center expansion project. The expansion opened up the downtown corridor, bringing residents into the convention complex, and helped local businesses coming out of the pandemic.

Convention Center Expansion & Renovation Project Key Points

  • The project cost $245 million 
  • 92% of the materials of the demolition were recycled
  • One new ballroom & one renovated ballroom
  • 15K square feet of outdoor plaza space
  • 240K square feet of space
  • 34 breakout rooms

The convention center expansion included adding more programmable, exhibit and ballroom space and more breakout rooms. In addition, it seamlessly updated the old space, so the entire facility has a unified look and design. As part of the project, Sacramento made the smart decision to incorporate space for community activation when they began their expansion and renovation project at the convention center, which is now complete.

The expansion reimagined the ‘front door’ of the venue by situating its new west-facing lobby on a 35,000-square-foot events plaza featuring an outdoor stage, public art, activation zones and landscaping.

The team at the global design firm, Populous, spent a great deal of time learning about the city, its history, people, and stories. They talked to many stakeholders to understand what makes Sacramento the city it is. They spent a lot of time learning about the city’s farm-to-fork culture and how it was ingrained in its DNA.

The architects immediately recognized that the convention center location was a central point in the city. It was situated on a pedestrian mall, anchored on the other end by Golden 1 Center and next to the performing arts center (which was also going under renovation). Critically, it was within steps of the jewel of the city, Capitol Park and the Capitol itself. Ultimately, they saw that the opening of the plaza created continuity between downtown and midtown, where many people worked, came for entertainment, and used the hotels.

Key Economic Impacts:

  • The expansion will result in an estimated increase in hotel room night occupancy from 48% to 62% within five years.
  • Citywide conventions are expected to increase from about 36 to 61 annual events by 2025, resulting in an increase of more than 150,000 new hotel room nights.
  • Convention attendee spending averages more than $100 in spending per day in Sacramento, with an average hotel room costing about $150 per night.

Visit Sacramento has done an excellent job over the year explaining the importance of the conventions to the local economy and residents. There was little opposition to the expansion and renovation. It was the funding mechanism that needed to be worked out.

Visit Sacramento’s Sonya Bradley, “The hotel community has been all positive. It was the hotel community that established the STID (Sacramento Tourism Infrastructure District) to pay for the building of the ballroom. Initially, the City of Sacramento (the owner and operator of the facility) wanted to build the ballroom in phase 2. The hotels and Visit Sacramento knew that if there was a phase 2, there was a strong possibility that a second ballroom – our number one need – would not get built or built to the specifications (based on what our customers were asking for).

Bringing Local Artists Into the Building

  • A new public plaza separates the convention center from the rebuilt Community Center Theater, now called the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center.
  • The SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District will include five new public artworks by four California artists.
  • Sacramento artist Kimberly Garza has already installed her piece, a 25-foot tall sculpture titled “California Cathedral.”

The incorporation of public art by local artists was a great way to infuse the art community into the project. It also works well with the overall feel of downtown Sacramento, with its vibrant art scene full of murals and public spaces.

The facility revitalized an underused part of downtown by opening a pedestrian route to midtown and the neighborhoods beyond. The new design and reorientation of the convention center allows for a natural connection on K Street, Sacramento’s historic main street, and creates a connection between downtown and midtown while re-establishing a vital economic and community corridor.

This enclave of Sacramento — dubbed the SAFE Credit Union Convention & Performing Arts District as part of a financial commitment from local not-for-profit SAFE Credit Union — is a district boasting an eclectic mix of restaurants, parks, art galleries, coffee shops and local businesses.

The Challenges of Timing

The project started construction in the fourth quarter of 2019, which meant it was closed during all of 2020. In what seemed like fortunate timing for the construction, it also made the reopening very difficult as the center opened back up in July of 2021.

Sonya said, “Unfortunately, due to COVID, many of the downtown workers have not returned to the city center, which has resulted in fewer people downtown who would be the primary audience for community events utilizing the new plaza during the week – such as a farmer’s market and musical performances, and the Center’s named sponsor, SAFE Credit Union, had put forth some ideas around conducting financial literacy lunchtime learning sessions.”

Sacramento local and owner of downtown’s The Good Bottle, Christopher Sinclair, shared, "Having that vitality downtown is so necessary for all of us small businesses here, and it's so integral specifically to this K Street corridor. I would argue that that has a stronger influence on the businesses around here than the arena does."

The Goal for Stacked Groups

With the expansion, the facility can allow for “stacked events” where two smaller conventions might be running concurrently or in a much tighter time frame due to the facility's ability to provide multiple lobbies, easier navigation for set-up and break down, etc.

The Visit Sacramento team worked with Shimo at 2 Synergize, a Simpleview company, to develop their annual goals for A, B, and C groups, with a goal for stacked groups as well. 

2021 Sacramento Business Journal - Best Real Estate Projects of the Year

Winning the Best Real Estate Project of the Year shows the community’s investment in the convention center and understanding of the importance of the facility to the overall economy.

According to the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, the convention center brings more than $700 million to Downtown Sacramento and the region.

Marketing the Expansion for Group Business

Digital Edge researched, wrote and designed a recovery campaign in parallel with marketing the new convention center expansion. Once the center was ready to reopen, Digital Edge worked with the destination to bring health and safety information together with a designed safety seal that Visit Sacramento implemented across businesses in the community. This helped bridge the gap between the campaign and the local implementation for stakeholders.

The whitepaper demonstrated to meeting planners how Sacramento was approaching safe meetings and was also a guide for local stakeholders to utilize. The safety seal was something that everyone from the convention center to local restaurants could adapt and utilize

The Results:

  • 15 new meetings site pages
  • 70 sponsored social media posts
  • 9 emails
  • 11 trade media insertions
  • 177% increase in meetings site visitation
  • 2.1 million campaign impressions
  • 25.92% email open rate