PHOENIX (Jan. 13, 2008) - The aesthetics of the new Phoenix Convention Center were inspired by the America's most-photographed natural landmark, so it seems only fitting that the first group to convene there is a collection of professional shutterbugs.

The Professional Photographers of America christened the Phoenix Convention Center over the weekend with the Imaging USA Annual Convention and Expo. The PPA is the world's largest nonprofit association for professional photographers, and 5,000 of its members will circulate through the convention center this week.

Five years and $600 million in the making, the Phoenix Convention Center celebrated its public grand opening on Dec. 27. But Lenore Taffel, Director of Events & Education for the Professional Photographers of America, didn't get her first glimpse of the shiny-new complex until she held a pre-convention meeting there Jan. 8.

"When I booked this facility, all I had seen were artist renderings and floor plans," Taffel said. "I have to admit I was a little nervous that our meeting start date was only a week after the scheduled completion of the building. But I am very impressed with the hard work the team at the (Greater Phoenix) CVB and the convention center did to ensure everything would run smoothly, and I'm even more impressed with the final building product."

The expanded Phoenix Convention Center is 2.7 million square feet and boasts nearly 900,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space. It houses three ballrooms (including the largest one in Arizona), 11 exhibit halls (including one the size of five football fields), and 56 meeting rooms (including several with outdoor patios and pre-function space).

User-friendly features at the new convention center include exhibit halls with pre-scored floors, loading bays with air conditioning, a food court with five themed eateries, and a conference center with cutting-edge audio and video technology.

The convention center's three-building campus is adorned by $3.2 million worth of public art, and its West Building has been awarded LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Artful whimsy and ecological functionality come together at the convention center's water-harvesting garden, where giant sculptures of desert creatures preside over a recycling process that converts condensation from the heating and cooling system into irrigation water for landscaping.

"The Phoenix Convention Center will be a benchmark for other cities as they work to expand their current facilities," Taffel said. "Not just the beauty and technology, but the ability to build a facility that is green and strives to protect the environment."

The Professional Photographers of America were joined this weekend by the American Meteorological Society, whose 2009 Annual Meeting is taking place concurrently with Imaging USA. These delegates are not only the first to enjoy the amenities of the expanded Phoenix Convention Center, but they are the first who can stay at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown hotel and explore other parts of the city via Phoenix's new light-rail system.

The 1,000-room Sheraton, which opened a block away from the convention center in October, is the largest hotel in Arizona. Metro Light Rail, which debuted in downtown Phoenix on the same day as the convention center, connects meeting attendees to a new realm of dining and entertainment possibilities. The sleek trains stop at attractions such as Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, Chase Field and US Airways Center. Downtown delegates also can take a 20-minute ride to neighboring Tempe, home to the popular Mill Avenue entertainment and shopping district.

"Beyond the Phoenix Convention Center, I am very impressed with the changes in downtown Phoenix - the new hotel, new light-rail system and new activities for convention attendees," Taffel said. "Downtown Phoenix has literally risen from the ashes and debris of the previous Civic Plaza to become a world-class convention destination."

For images of the Phoenix Convention Center, the The Professional Photographers of America meeting and several other Phoenix images please visit our photo tour at