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Friday, May 25, 2012

A Portland convention, but not at the Convention Center

And it isn't because there's no huge hotel across the street. It's because the Convention Center pretty much blows leaves a lot to be desired. Says internet wunderkind Andy Baio of his upcoming "creativity festival" called XOXO:

We could have done it at the Convention Center, which is how most of these things go, but there's not a lot of character there. But the benefit you get is that all of your comforts are taken care of: you have a stage and audio and video and it's wired for wireless Internet access already and power. [Yu Contemporary] is amazing, but it's a blank canvas. So we're building a stage, doing seating, dropping in wireless via satellite, doing our own audio and video.

Writes one reader: "The Oregon Convention Center is essentially an airport without planes. I suspect future conferences, especially in Portland, will be more niche-based, and will shun the Convention Center." It probably depends on which niches we're talking about.

Comments (16)

There are only about two possible answers: make it a bigger white elephant so it can "compete" for the largest conventions or buy the Spruce Goose from Evergreen Air so that it least has a plane.

The Oregon Convention Center is really geared for large groups. And frankly being such a small city with generally crappy weather 9 months out of the year, Portland is going to have a difficult time attracting large conferences.

Since it's still in an urban renewal zone and blighted, it should be torn down and built to this year's mantra. Gosh, that would create 550 jobs!....temporarily.

The publicy funded luxury hotel is going to "fix" everything, right?

As a former banquet captain, I would see this occasionally. Somebody would want an event to be at a more fabulous space so we'd load up the trucks and do a cater-out somewhere. My favorite: We did a banquet for the elephants from the circus using 81" table clothes as their bibs.

What usually happens is that the organizers get their fabulous space - in this case an admittedly cool building on 10th and Morrison right up the street from the dynamic Grand Central Bowling - but they spend a lot of time patching together the essentials that a convention center or convention hotel have at their disposal.

I won't hazard a guess here, but something will come up that they don't expect that professional convention places deal with 3 times a week, and they may very well fix it, but it will be 10 times the hassle.

Then next time the "creativity festival" starts planning someone will say, "That was awesome last year, but why don't we just go to the downtown Hilton this time and concentrate on the festival part and leave the last minute orders for 20 gallons of coffee, and the box lunch for 400 or the need for extra chairs or tables, etc... to them."

Okay, I am going to take a guess. Something about dropping the internet from the satellite and doing all the audio-visual stuff yourself, or maybe just the power needs, is going to be much more of a hassle than they anticipated. I'm not saying there will be problems. It will just be a lot more work. And at some point someone will say, "Well, you know this building wasn't build for this." Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to jinx them and I wish them the best, but I've seen it over and over again.

Once we did a function for Mel Torme at the then new building across the street from the hotel. I mean right across the street, and it was amazing how many times we had to sprint back to get something.

Finally, I've got to say the "Wheel of Fortune" taping at the Convention Center looked awesome. I only watched because my friend, the bank teller, was on, (she won 60 grand) but I was shocked to see how professional the whole thing looked.

Incidentally, (and the Xs in this group reminded me of this), the TV show was setting up when there was also some kind of leather/sex convention going on in another room. Begin your weird Vanna White/Pat Sajak sex adventure fantasy on the count of 3.... 3,2,1, go...

The convention center is outrageously expensive as well.
They sent be an unbelievably fancy, full size color glossy pricing packet a few years ago when I was assigned to find a facility for a west coast gymnastics competition.

It took me about 1 minute to see how impossible their costs were.

Every little thing imaginable had to be through them. Every little thing and task had to be their equipment and their staff.

It ended up to be many $1000s per day more than was feasible for a single area even with a non-profit discount.

I can only imagine how costly a full blown conference would cost.

Something few more than the swindlers can afford.

I've often wondered why so many Democrat shindigs are held there.
Are they getting a sweet deal?

I've often wondered why so many Democrat shindigs are held there.

This is not an anti-union comment, but I would guess that the reason is that the DemocratIC (please use the correct name) Party is always under intense pressure from its union supporters to hold events in places that hire union workers. (Same goes for where they do their printing, etc.)

Darn, I've got to get to work, but the memories are flooding back. The ghosts of conventions past, not to mention thousands of events.
Okay, the guy mentioned building their own stage. That reminded me of the time a houseman and I were introduced as Lily Tomlin to an adoring crowd.
Lily Tomlin came in to perform after the event had already started, and she was immediately not pleased at the height of the stage. It was one thing for local politicians to speak with only the top halves of their bodies showing, but she needed to be seen to do her act. Now, we had a room just full of risers of all different sizes, rollaway staircases, etc... - a big room full of this stuff for an unexpected need. That's the theme here.
I told her my plan and she was okay with it but there wasn't time to get to the MC, etc...since the event had started. So her intro went as planned, including the big, "Ladies and gentlemen, Lily Tomlin..." At this point I walked out with one of the housemen and we were carrying a riser. We built up the stage some more and - of course this took a couple of minutes. You don't want the damn collapsing with Lily Tomlin on it, but then she came out and admonished the other speakers for not understanding the importance of being seen.
Then there was the time...Ahh, screw it.

I love the planner types who think they are cool and know what we want.

If you look at the neighborhoods where people go (NW 23rd, SE Hawthorne, NE ALberta, N Williams), you may notice something they all have in common - 0/zilch/nada govt planning.

Meanwhile the best they can come up with is the Pearl with over-priced restaurants (due partly to the rents)that last six months and $350 jean stores. Real cool.

Meanwhile, we keep funding these bozos with TIF money that could be used for schools or potholes.

As someone with far too much experience with smaller shows, I can understand why XOXO isn't running at the Convention Center. Far too many cities have a surfeit of convention center space, and by the time they were set up, they were already too expensive for anyone but high rollers. An affordable amount for booth space for something such as XOXO is usually about $200 for most of the vendors it's trying to attract. With most of them, they're lucky if they make $1000 over the entire weekend, and considering the cost of transport, food, and accomodations, any increase above this wipes out any profit they might make. With volunteers, such as the MakerFaire wannabes, they aren't about ready to pay more than that unless they're hoping to catch some big name investors, and any show that needs to be financed through KickStarter isn't likely to see too many of those.

By way of comparison, I've priced several larger shows at local convention spaces, and the convention halls' prices are absolutely precious. For instance, I was considering participating in a local garden show until I found the show was charging a minimum of $1100 for a 10 x 10 space, no electricity or other amenities. Better yet, the organizers cried about how they were stuck with these rates because that's what the convention center charged, and then the organizers wondered why the only remaining vendors were multi-level marketing scams, time-share condo dealers, and flip-this-house renovators who still hope that 2006 will return one day. (In the process, the show has gone through three owners in three years, but nobody will consider moving to a new, less expensive venue because "this is where we've always been." It's a space that made sense in 1984, but it's just too blasted expensive today.)

That said, the organizer of the XOXO made the right choice, but it's not going to help a lot of the vendors. Again, speaking from experience, shows like that bring in a lot of people, but the joke about attendees arriving with one shirt and one $20 bill and not changing either for the entire week is very appropriate. I've been to several of these "hip, happening" shows where we had a lot of people attend, true. It's just a shame that one-third were people there solely to snag free stuff (and getting furious that everything on my table wasn't free), one-third were hipsters pulling "LOOK AT MEEEEE!" stunts (my wife had one idiot who decided he needed to conduct a juggling demonstration right in front of her space, and this guy got butthurt that she asked, nicely, if he could move it out of the way so potential customers could get to the table), and the rest were regional Etsy organizers pestering every last vendor about getting involved with their shows.

"Meanwhile, we keep funding these bozos with TIF money that could be used for schools or potholes."

Somebody needs to write a book about Portland called, "Planned to Death". The above quote needs to be on the first page of the first chapter.

The "development community" plays the politicians like violins using those perfect politicians' drugs of column inches and public adulation (carefully scripted and executed by people paid to participate). The real needs of a real city are way too boring and difficult for them to even think about. Nobody gets a rush from filling a pothole or providing a pre-school arts and crafts class. BORING!

The YU building probably needs eight figures worth of system upgrades to begin to be usable, which probably isn't happening absent a whale of an angel donor, and one can guess that they trigger code compliance including seismic upgrades if they so much as change another lightbulb. So, 'til the ADW (angel donor whale) shows up, it is essentially a brick tent. Washington HS would be a great venue for these kinds of events, but the powers that be ordain condos, so condos it is! "Planned to Death", indeed.

Make that, "WAD", for Whale Angel Donor, as in, "That project needs a WAD!"

There's two words that tell you everything you need to know about why your convention center will always be an expensive joke: LAS VEGAS.
Has a truly International Airport with direct flights from all over North America and much of Asia. Thousands or hotel rooms and convention facilities for any size of conference or convention - from tiny 20-25 person meetings to huge international shows like the Consumer Electronics Show or National Association of Broadcasters Show.
Much warmer and sunnier weather at any time of year and of course, legal gambling 24/7/365.

"The Oregon Convention Center is essentially an airport without planes."

This comment struck me as funny. If you watch Leverage at all, whenever they are supposed to be at 'Logan' airport in Boston, it looks amazingly like the Oregon Convention Center.

Thaddeus, the way Portland is becoming dis-functional, people leaving and the urban core half full, it makes sense that what's left are stage sets.

"The Oregon Convention Center is essentially an airport without planes."

This comment struck me as funny. If you watch Leverage at all, whenever they are supposed to be at 'Logan' airport in Boston, it looks amazingly like the Oregon Convention Center.

If you've ever walked along some of the open concourses - especially the long one along M.L.K., with large glass windows on one side, and shops, restrooms and doors to nowhere on the other side, and wide open walking and seating areas, it looks JUST like an airport concourse.

And 99% of the time, the Convention Center is so freaking dead that they might as well just put a runway down where MLK is, attach some jetways, and put in a new airport - it'd be walking and biking distance to downtown, and the existing PDX can then be reclaimed as "greenspace" (so that we can be better than Orange County and its El Toro MCAS, or Berlin and its Templehof Airport), or even better, revert back as wetland.

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