Pa. Convention Center celebrates its 25th anniversary

May 11, 2018 GMT

State and regional officials, business, hospitality and tourism industry executives turned out on Thursday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s opening.

The celebration served to highlight the center’s economic impact on downtown Philadelphia during the last 25 years.

Mayor Jim Kenney spoke about the facility’s key role in the city’s hospitality sector as he addressed the crowd that gathered for the celebration.

“Our local tourism industry is thriving and this is no small part due to success of the convention center,” he said.

“The convention center serves as an important business travel hub for our region. It has been a huge catalyst for centers city’s growth in recent years. From the Philadelphia Auto Show, to the Flower Show, and Comic Con and so many huge events throughout the year, the convention center draws visitors from across the country and around the world to experience our city and all that is has to offer.”

Gregory J. Fox, chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority said the center has played an integral role in the efforts to transform and reinvigorate Center City Philadelphia since the early 1990s.

“Since the center opened its doors 25 years ago, the number of hotel rooms in Center City has more than doubled, fueled in large part by the demand for hotels from the convention and meeting business,” he said. “In addition, Philadelphia’s 73,000 hospitality and leisure jobs make it the fastest growing sector of employment in Philadelphia, increasing by more than 59 percent since 1990.”

Heather A. Steinmiller, vice chair of the PCCA board, said a key factor of center’s success is due to its focus on customer service. The board implemented a number of changes at the facility including bringing in facility manager SMG to oversee operations, modernizing work rules and enhancing billing fairness and transparency for customers.

“Tourism is dependent on customer service and excellent customer service drives the economic engine of hospitality here in the Southeastern region,” said Steinmiller, who leads the center’s customer satisfaction efforts.

“Here at the center, our focus is now customer service. Since our new model has been in place, the center’s business has steadily grown.”

She noted in 2017, the facility hosted more than 200 events, trade shows and conventions, resulting in direct customer spending in the local economy of $343 million.

The center underwent a major expansion in 2011 to attract larger conventions and enable the facility to host multiple events simultaneously.

The expansion increased the facility’s saleable space by 60 percent with three new exhibit halls, the largest convention center ballroom in the Northeast, additional meeting rooms and an atrium entrance on Broad Street.

The expansion fueled an increase in PCC-related demand for hotel rooms, which has jumped by more than 25 percent since 2011.

About 250 guests gathered around an 11-foot tall sand sculpture and a giant birthday cake to make the centers silver anniversary and celebrate this year’s theme for National Travel & Tourism Week, Travel Then and Now. Attendees included Michael Chapaloney, executive director of Tourism for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development; Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau; Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia and Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

The convention center opened in May 1993 and an official grand opening was held a month later as part of the city’s first Welcome America celebration with then Vice President Al Gore.

This year, the facility will partner with Welcome America to host a free Pennsylvania Convention Center Community Festival on June 30 from noon to 5 p.m. The festival will feature public tours of the center’s $1.5 million art collection, special performances, a singalong, a screening of the family film “Sing” and other events.