AUSTIN, Texas – Convention and event centers are designed to generate economic activity by hosting events that support local business and spur job creation. In 2021, after reducing overall cost, investing in comprehensive cleaning programs, and creating space to back community support operations, such as emergency shelters and a community food bank prep site, the Austin Convention Center Department and staff made the transition back to hosting conferences, large-scale events and meetings.
Early in 2021, under the notification of being a possible Alternate Care Site for COVID-19 hospital patient overflow, the Austin Convention Center (ACC) was prepped and staged but never activated. In March, the department was given authorization to operate at 25% with mask requirements and social distancing obligations. Events returned in April for the Palmer Events Center (PEC) and in May for ACC.
June 30, 2021, Trisha Tatro was selected as the new Director of the Austin Convention Center Department, announced by Rodney Gonzales, the Assistant City Manager for the City of Austin. Tatro had served as interim director since Feb. 2020. On July 1, ACC and PEC were authorized to open at full capacity while continuing to adhere to all City of Austin, Travis County, State of Texas, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
“The hallmark of any great convention center is the ability to effectively pivot and change directions,” said Tatro. “I commend our staff for quickly adjusting back to hosting events and providing for the needs of our clients and event operators. This is what we do best. There is little question that the road to economic recovery, development, and growth involves the meeting and convention industry. In the months ahead, we are focused on bringing back meetings, conventions, festivals, and expos to our buildings. We are focused on our current and physical needs to grow, and will continue to partner with the travel, hotel, and tourism industries to surpass expectations and predictions.”
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS – ENHANCING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE
The Austin Convention Center Department’s capital improvement plan focuses on future growth needs and modernizing facilities. This includes the redevelopment of the Austin Convention Center to remain competitive in securing regional and national events, implementing modern and world-class sanitation technologies, and completing the construction of the Austin Convention Center Department Warehouse and Marshalling Yard.
Under construction and estimated to be completed in 2022, the new 70,000 square foot off-site building will serve as a marshalling yard and warehouse capable of providing parking for up to 112 trucks and tractor-trailers along with spaces for employees and vehicle parking. Built to alleviate downtown event traffic and address the need for off-site storage, the facility is being constructed to meet LEED® Silver certification. The facility can be adapted and equipped to be an emergency shelter, water distribution point, and will be capable of hosting emergency operation activities. The facility includes the commissioning of a visual arts project that will be visible as part of the City of Austin Art in Public Places (AIPP) program.
COMING BACK - 2021 AND BEYOND
During the last six months of 2021, ACCD successfully hosted 28 events at the Austin Convention Center and 45 events at the Palmer Events Center. ACC booked 73 groups, with 46 being new groups, and successfully negotiated COVID-19 impacted groups by rescheduling and retaining rentals. ACC negotiated an additional 102 groups for future years.
PEC booked 109 total events for 2021-2022 25 of which were new events, and held 13 during the pandemic. PEC rebooked 13 total events impacted by COVID-19. Both ACC and PEC continually partner with clients to retain existing business and gain new business for 2022 and beyond.
MOVING FORWARD IN TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT
The Austin Convention Center and the Palmer Events Center have successfully achieved GBAC STAR™ facility accreditation for 2022, meaning that each facility continues to maintain established cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention programs to minimize risks associated with infectious agents. Verified by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association, the accreditation means that the Austin Convention Center Department is using proper cleaning protocols, disinfection techniques, and best practices to combat biohazards and infectious disease.
The facilities first earned the annual performance-based accreditation in 2021 and achieved GBAC STAR™ reaccreditations for 2022. The Austin Convention Center Department demonstrated compliance with the program’s 20 core elements, which range from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies to personal protective equipment and emergency preparedness and response measures.
The sustainability program continued to expand as both ACC and PEC earned the U.S. Green Building Councils – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold certification, demonstrating a commitment to health, safety, energy, and environmental design. ACCD diverted 39.6% of its total waste from landfills by recycling 233,872 lbs. in waste materials.
Individually, ACC diverted 44% of total waste materials from landfills by recycling 93,473 lbs. of waste, and PEC diverted 31.4% of its waste from landfills by recycling 40,399 lbs. of waste materials. The ACCD 5th Street Parking Garage Administrative Offices earned the U.S. Green Building Councils - LEED® Silver certification.
ACCD staff backed the Austin community with support as PEC stood up as a shelter for the Winter Ice Storm (Uri) in Feb. 2021 and assisted with the setup and teardown of the Alternate Care Site at ACC. This included major electrical setup, tents, and hospital beds. Staff continued to prepare 1,000 to 2,000 bags of food weekly for the Eating Apart Together (EAT) initiative between Jan. and May of 2021.
ACCD’s Community Engagement and Partner Outreach program coordinated its first all-online approach for COACCC, hosted the Virtual AustinCorps Program, and continued to partner with and support the Mexic-Arte Museum’s Viva la Vida Annual Festival.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS
The department also received awards, recognitions, and rankings in 2021, including:
• 2021 Stella Award Winner - Bronze Medal as the Best Convention Center in the Southwest Region voted on by public, planner voting and third-party, objective planner judging
• 2021 Smart Meetings Platinum Choice Award Winner for Best Convention Center, voted on by members of the hospitality industry
• 2021 Smart Meetings Smart Stars Awards, voted on by the hospitality industry
• 2021 Readers’ Choice Award, presented by ConventionSouth Magazine, Texas nominee by meeting planners and awarded to meeting sites that display exemplary creativity and professionalism
• 2021 Prime Site Award Award, presented by Facilities & Destinations, given to the top convention and exposition centers
• 2021 Excellence Awards, presented by Meetings Today, “recognizing organizations that stepped up to the plate when the going got tough”
• Palmer Events Center and Austin Convention Center awarded LEED Gold Certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
• Austin Convention Center and Palmer Events Center achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC) STAR™ accreditation, the gold standard for prepared facilities. Under the guidance of GBAC, a Division of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, the Austin Convention Center Department has implemented the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention for the facility. ACCD has completed a multi-year renewal of the GBAC STAR™ accreditation.
The Austin Convention Center and Palmer Events Center are operated by the Austin Convention Center Department, a division of the City of Austin.
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