Sunny Days Are Ahead for Los Angeles Convention Center

Ebay had just launched; “Toy Story” premiered in theaters; Operation Desert Storm officially ended; and Alanis Morissette released her award-winning album “Jagged Little Pill.” A lot has changed since 1995, the year Los Angeles Convention Center was most recently renovated, yet the facility has remained almost frozen in time. It shows in the meetings industry, which has been taking citywides elsewhere (San Diego hosted more than 60  last year, compared to L.A.’s 26). Robert “Bud” Ovrom, executive director of the new Los Angeles Department of Convention & Tourism Development, is out to change that. While Ovrom is up for the feat, he’s candid about the challenges he and his team face in trying to complete the project by the 2020 target date. “Our space, quite frankly, is very tired and underperforming as a result,” says Ovrom. The first step toward change was launching a competition for a new design. Out of 11 teams, the Kansas City, Missouri-based architecture firm Populous submitted the winning plan, led by Michael Lockwood, senior principal and architect. In a nutshell, the plan calls for integrating the building with the nearby $2.5 billion L.A. Live entertainment complex, home to, among other desirable venues, Microsoft TheaterClub NokiaGrammy Museum, and a dual-branded JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel. “Conventioneers are not only going to the convention center, they’re going to L.A.,” says Lockwood. The new design also aims to capitalize on the traditional So-Cal experience by putting attendees “one step away from sunshine,” says Ovrom. But that doesn’t only mean loads of windows. It means understanding and arranging programmatic spaces with direct adjacency to daylight, says Lockwood. The new 97,000-sq.-ft. ballroom—the largest in California—will sit atop the facility and have panoramic views of downtown. “When you’re in this ballroom, you’re going to know you’re in L.A.,” exclaims Ovrom. [inlinead align="left"]"It’s no longer only about square footage and meeting spaces. It’s about how those spaces are arranged and what kind of experience they give you. People want the space to be theirs, about them and tailored to their group.”[/inlinead] An outdoor space adjacent to the ballroom will have a covered roof with rigging capabilities and be open on each end, meaning it can be used rain or shine. Other major changes to LACC include expanding the West Hall to approximately 355,000 square feet and adding a 1,000-room connected hotel. Though the groundbreaking on the LACC project is slated for early 2016, much is being done to bulk up hotel inventory in the surrounding area already. “We’ve set a goal of building 4,000 more rooms by 2020,” says Ovrom, adding about 1,700 rooms are currently under construction, including a 900-room InterContinental property and a 350-room W Hotel. Ironically, the two decades the convention center sat without upgrades may pay off now with the $470 million budget. “The silver lining in not having done anything with the convention center in 20 years is we have relatively low debt,” says Ovrom, noting the West Hall is paid off, and the South Hall will be paid off in six years. LACC is also partially funded by a 14 percent transient occupancy tax set by the city. Ovrom adds the plan won’t require raising existing taxes or levying new ones.