“The miraculous thing about it is the lighting,” Steve Goodling, President and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau explained, his enthusiasm hard to contain even over the phone. “With a truss system and a suspension grid system, you're able to spread the light over the floor; you get greater reach, so that no matter where you're standing in the room, you feel like you're on stage.”
Goodling is speaking of the much talked of Pacific Ballroom at the Long Beach Arena, a building from the 1960s dedicated to sports and music that since 2013, has experienced a renaissance with the debut of a state of the art technology that transforms the 45,000 square-foot space into an intimate loft-style event venue.
On the heels of the DestinationNEXT study that demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that destination management is a growing responsibility among DMOs, I was curious about the journey that the Long Beach CVB had taken to execute on a $10 million project like the Pacific Ballroom. I spoke with Goodling about the experience.
The inspiration: the famous TED Talks, that in 2009, outgrew its original space in Monterey and found a new home in Long Beach, California. Over the next five years, Goodling and his team watched and learned from TED, capturing their concept of space and design, exploring the model they employ in order to bring people together and create opportunities for people to meet and gather. “We realized that this was how people wanted to engage. This was how people wanted to network,” Goodling said. “So, it became our mission to create that ultimate networking experience in an uber networking facility.”
The Pacific Ballroom, in fact, is only part of this larger mission that also includes renovations to the Long Beach Convention Center that infuse new social spaces and seating arrangements – all for an engineered kind of serendipity – throughout the building, to the Terrace Theatre and the Arena itself. “When TED first asked us if they could use the Arena for a party, we said OK, but we were curious about what they were going to do with the property,” Goodling said. “When you walked in, the effect was unbelievable. The drapes, the LED lighting, the lounge-style furniture completely transformed the space. And so we got to thinking if we could replicate this and make it turnkey, then every convention can have its own TED-style experience.”
The Long Beach CVB hired an architecture firm to explore initial costs while they researched the market potential for this kind of venue. Goodling and his team presented the proposal to city management, meeting with councilmembers as well as the mayor, ultimately receiving approval for the repositioning of the Long Beach Arena to create this additional-use facility. Since that initial go-ahead from the City, the local community has also embraced the Pacific Ballroom. “When the event space is available, our local community groups are welcome to rent the facility as well,” Goodling added. “Our local non-profits will use it for their fundraising events, which is a huge advantage when you don't have to rent the $400,000 worth of assets that's already built into the space.”
Technical magic and innovative approach aside, value to meeting and event planners is ultimately one of the biggest selling points of the Pacific Ballroom. By making lighting turnkey, and giving planners the tools to create their own signature events on a blank canvas, the Long Beach CVB built immeasurable value into the destination. Bottom line, the building's repositioning is paying off, with $58 million worth of events already booked and $83 million pending.
However, the Pacific Ballroom project is just one example of how the Long Beach CVB has been involved in enhancing the destination. And the CVB does not take the responsibility lightly. Goodling explains, “We made a decision five years ago during the recession. People weren't traveling then, but we had a responsibility to have a great destination ready to receive visitors when the economy turned. We chose to co-invest $1.7 million with various community partners in a LED lighting program downtown; we chose to enhance our destination instead of advertise it. Every CVB has a responsibility to help continue destination development – not just marketing and selling. You have to be at the table as one of the main leaders of the destination.”