Major events at new Phoenix Convention Center transforming city’s urban core

PHOENIX (Jan. 29, 2009) — The most dramatic transition west of the White House occurred this week at the Phoenix Convention Center.

No sooner did 8,000 pairs of high heels click-clack out of the convention center than 5,000 sets of cowboy boots clomp in. Out rolled the pink Cadillacs; in trod the Black Angus.

For the lunch crowd strolling the streets of downtown Phoenix, the cosmeticians-and-cowboys scene was surreal. But such is the new reality for America’s fifth-largest city thanks to a newly expanded convention center that can accommodate 80 percent of the conventions in the United States.

The Mary Kay Cosmetics Leadership Conference, one the first major conventions to be held at the new Phoenix Convention Center, wrapped up Wednesday afternoon just as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association began welcoming attendees for its annual Cattle Industry Annual Convention & Trade Show.

The Cattlemen kicked off their event with a reception on the trade-show floor and a “grill-off” on the street outside. The NCBA Trade Show, the cattle industry’s largest, features more than 250 exhibitors — including several with live cattle. The trade show is being held on the lower level of the Phoenix Convention Center’s North Building, which opened on Dec. 27 and houses nearly 600,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space.

In total, the Phoenix Convention Center contains 2.7 million feet of gross space, about 900,000 of which is rentable.

The convention center’s Grand Canyon-inspired environs include three grand ballrooms and $3.2 million worth of public art. Thoughtful touches such as exhibit halls with pre-scored floors and climate-controlled loading bays are a hit with exhibitors, and rooftop solar paneling and a water-harvesting garden (which turns condensation from the heating-and-cooling system and into irrigation water) are friendly to the environment.

As the Cattlemen swagger out the Phoenix Convention Center this weekend, 6,000 energy engineers and executives will begin flocking in for the Electric Utilities Environmental Conference (EUEC). More than 450 experts will make presentations at this annual conference, many addressing issues related to President Barack Obama’s proposed energy-independence initiatives.

And after that heady gathering the convention center rolls out the red carpet for the National Basketball Association. The NBA All-Star Game will be played in downtown Phoenix on Feb. 15, and the Phoenix Convention Center will host several of its events, including the fan-friendly All-Star Jam Session. A full basketball court with stadium seating will be erected inside the building to accommodate the All-Star Celebrity Game and All-Star team practices.

“The new convention center is totally changing the atmosphere and personality of downtown Phoenix,” said Kevin Kamenzind, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The sidewalks and restaurants and hotel lobbies are teeming with diverse visitors, and that new energy flows in and around the sports events and art performances that already exist downtown. Locals feed off that energy, and so does the economy.”