New convention center projects focus on community connection

Design plans for facilities in Los Angeles and San Antonio include big, inviting outdoor plazas.

November 10, 2015 |

Hospitality businesses have always had an ambivalent relationship with convention centers that are either in full fling or are dark, so that the nearby restaurants and hotels benefit from traffic only at certain times of the year.

Michael Lockwood, Principal and Design Leader for Populous’s Convention Center Practice, sees some evidence that convention centers are trying to be better year-round neighbors.

One of Populous’s current projects is the $350 million expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which will add a 220,000-sf exhibit hall, a 100,000-sf ballroom, 70,000 sf of new meeting space, and the renovation of the building’s West Hall. (The city also wants to build a 1,000-room Headquarters Hotel on the premises.)

The renovation and addition are scheduled to start in mid-2017 and be completed by the end of 2020. The convention center will remain open during the construction, thanks to “a lot of sequencing,” says Lockwood.

Four residential towers are being built across the street. Populous is tripling the size of the center’s plaza to encourage local residents to use it as a public space.

Populous also wants to blur the line between the convention center and L.A. Live, the adjacent sports and entertainment district, and the 878-room J.W. Marriott. The hotel intends to add a Gensler-designed 755-room, 38-story tower that would connect with a 123-room Ritz Carlton.

Another project—for which Populous and Marmon Mok are the architect/designers and joint venture Hunt-Zachry is the GC—is the $325 million expansion of San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which will include a large public space. The West Hall, the oldest portion of the convention center, will be demolished and replaced by a mixed-use area centered on nearby Hemisphere Park. When it’s completed in early in 2016, the convention center will house a 55,000-sf Grand Ballroom, the biggest in Texas.

This project could be a boon to the 70 hotels within walking distance of the convention center, as long as they remain flexible in their approach to customers. Mary Bartlett, a Principal at Marmon Mok, recalls when Alcoholics Anonymous had its convention in San Antonio, all of the hotel bars switched to being coffee bars. “They sold more coffee than they ever did,” she recalls.



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