After more than a decade of planning, lobbying the state legislature, and construction, the huge expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center is finally complete and open for business. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau had an opening event last Friday. The newly expanded center can accommodate two large conventions at one time or a very large convention that may have chosen another city due to lack of space. It, also, can have a large special event, like the huge Philadelphia Flower Show or the Auto Show, and host a large convention at the same time, as well as, have numerous smaller events and meetings in its many meeting rooms and its large new ballroom.
The center now has more than a million square feet of useable space and covers six city blocks, from 11th Street to Broad Street and from Arch Street to Race Street. The space includes 679,000 square feet of exhibit space and 528,000 square feet of that is contiguous. That contiguous space is on the second floor, stretching from 11th Street, over 12th & 13th Streets, to Broad Street. The center includes the largest ballroom in the Northeast (called the Terrace Ballroom), at 55,400 square feet, on the top-level. It, also, includes several dozen meeting rooms that are perfect for civic events and corporate meetings alike.
The new wing has a huge entrance on Broad Street, with a glass curtain wall that is roughly 100 feet high, facing the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts museum and the new Lenfest Plaza, under construction next to the museum. The lobby is a grand open space with, I believe, limestone walls amidst long staircases to the upper levels. There is a large rectangular lighting feature over the Broad Street entrance, that has many different light schemes using ten rows of LED lights. It was built by the The Lighting Practice, the company that also created the new crown lights on the PECO Building and the lights on the buildings on South Broad Street (I’ll have a picture or two of that soon, they had shut it off when I was there the other day). There is no other art in the new wing yet, because it is a state construction project, and the state does not have a requirement that public art be included in construction projects. However, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is seeking funding to add public art and the Academy of Fine Arts has already set up a commission to lead that effort. Also, the center is seeking LEED certification by having many energy and water saving features. The center is already an example of sustainable development because of its downtown location. There is likely no other convention center of this size in the country that is located within walking distance of so many hotels and tourist attractions as the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The Convention and Visitors Bureau believes that Center City would need about 2,000 new hotel rooms to accommodate the largest conventions.
The benefits of the convention center expansion are greater than most people realize. Because the attendees of most conventions are businesspeople, they likely would have more money to spend on expensive restaurants, hotels, stores, strip clubs and the like (why do you think they have these conventions? 😉 ) and this would lead to better paying hospitality jobs than most hospitality jobs. Also, there is likely to be more entertainment and cultural attractions created for the conventioneers to enjoy, especially on Market East.
But, the biggest impact this will have on the region is that it enhances the region’s already huge medical and pharmaceutical industries. Philadelphia can rightfully be called the “medical capital of the world” because this metropolitan region has the biggest, the best, and the most of almost every aspect of the medical industry. And, not surprisingly, the Pennsylvania Convention Center has had the most medical conventions of any center in the country, every year, for many years now. The expansion will further secure the center’s place as the number one convention center in the nation, and probably the world, for medical and biotech conventions. In fact, you could argue that the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the epicenter of the world’s medical and biotech industries for that reason. That means that most sales and marketing officials of medical and pharmaceutical companies and institutions, and those companies that do business with them, will come to Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Convention Center at some point. That could definitely attract more of those companies to the region, and the city, because they would be able to do more in-person marketing and sales, here, than anywhere else in the world. Indeed, many companies may see an office in Philadelphia as a must, especially for their marketing and sales departments. Not everything can be done over the internet.
Additionally, any company or organization that comes to the convention center gets to see what Philadelphia has to offer, and be in downtown. Very few convention centers of this size are in downtown, and especially such a large and well-developed downtown. Also, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the expanded convention center is located imbetween the Comcast Center, three blocks to the west, and the National Constitution Center, five blocks to the east. That means that the convention center is located between the headquarters of the largest media company in the world and a major, and unique, civic institution whose chairman is President Bill Clinton. That essentially has, inadvertently, created a major civic and media corridor, along Arch Street, that the Pennsylvania Convention Center can benefit from to book conventions and meetings for political and social organizations.
So, obviously the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center is a monumental development for the city and region in so many ways. I have many pictures here of the new wing and links to articles in the first paragraph, which includes a cool virtual tour, and this link to an Inquirer article and chart.