Stella Awards 2021: Best Convention Center


Stellas 2021 Best Convention Center 6

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Walter E. Washington Convention Center

From international policy conferences and industry conventions to pop-culture festivals, black-tie fundraisers and presidential inaugural balls, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center unites locals and visitors from around the world to convene in the nation’s capital. With a prime location in the heart of D.C.’s downtown’s convention and entertainment district, the 2.3 million-square-foot center has 703,000 square feet of exhibit space in five exhibit halls, 52,000 square feet of ballroom space, 77 meeting rooms and 50 loading docks. Its walls are adorned with an art collection valued at $4 million.

With the onset of Covid-19 last year, the center stepped up and in partnership with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to announce the first emergency financial relief package dedicated to local hospitality and tourism industry and workers helping to provide $18 million in funding for local restaurants, hotels, destination marketing and undocumented employees. In March 2021 the center served as a high-capacity vaccination site. With some 120,000 vaccination doses administered on-site. The facility reopened for events in June 2021, having secured GBAC Star accreditation for cleaning, disinfection and infection prevention strategies. 

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Baltimore Convention Center

Still serving the pandemic-related needs of its city and state at this writing, the Baltimore Convention Center is preparing to reopen for meetings and events by the end of 2021 and already has begun to in-person and virtual site tours for convention clients. The center has 300,000 square feet of contiguous expo space, 50 meeting rooms and a 36,600-square-foot ballroom. With 9,000 downtown hotel rooms nearby, the facility is just 15 minutes from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and surrounded by exciting new eateries and world-class arts destinations.

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Atlantic City Convention Center

The LEED Gold and GBAC Star-certified Atlantic City Convention Center offers a hefty 500,000 contiguous square feet of convention event space. The site occupies nearly 31 acres, making it one of the East Coast’s largest convention facilities — and eminently able to keep attendees at safe social distances. Five exhibition venues range in size from 29,400 to 199,500 square feet, while 45 meeting rooms range from 672 to 11,880 square feet. Planners can choose among five banquet halls of the unique Tree House venue on the fourth floor, providing a wonderful view of the Atlantic City skyline. Adding to the center’s energy-efficient efforts is the largest single roof-mounted solar array in the U.S., consisting of 13,000 individual panels over 290,000 square feet.


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Orange County Convention Center

By deliberately prioritizing health and safety and rigorously following CDC protocols, Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center has been able to successfully provide controlled gatherings and unique experiences during the pandemic. Since July 2020, the OCCC has successfully welcomed more than 100 conventions, trade shows, meetings, consumer and sporting events throughout it’s total 7 million-square-foot footprint.

The statistics here are impressive, with 2,055,222 square feet of exhibit space, 471,119 square feet of meeting-room space spanning 70 rooms, and 226 breakout rooms. The center also is one of the largest LEED Gold-certified convention facilities and was the first to have its environmental management system certified by the International Organization for Standardization, thanks to extensive in-house recycling and solar-energy programs, and vegetables grown at its own Center-to-Table Gardens provides attendees with free, chemical-free food.

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Miami Beach Convention Center

A 1.4-million-square-foot LEED-certified facility just 15 minutes from Miami Beach International Airport, the Miami Beach Convention Center has an abundance of meeting and event spaces, both indoors and out. Four exhibition halls span 491,654 square feet, the 60,979-square-foot Grand Ballroom has 17,950 square feet of prefunction space and up to 84 meeting rooms of flexible sizes. The surrounding neighborhoods of Coconut Grove, Little Haiti, Little Havana and Historic Overtown allow attendees to experience a unique blend of Caribbean, Latin and American cultures, steps from iconic beaches, fine dining and world-class resorts.

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Georgia World Congress Center

Having undergone three major expansions since opening in 1976, today the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta has more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space over 12 exhibit halls, making it the forth largest convention facility in the U.S. The center also as 98 meeting rooms, two high-end boardrooms, three beautifully landscaped outdoor plazas and approximately 7,000 parking spaces. The GWCC spent time during the past tumultuous year to serve as an alternate-care facility for treatment of Covid patients with mild to moderate illness, in the process becoming the first convention center in the U.S. to achieve GBAC star accreditation for practices that help minimize risks associated with infectious agents like Covid-19.


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Kentucky International Convention Center

Located in the heart of Louisville, the Kentucky International Convention Center is a top-tier convention facility and a business hub. With natural light and windows overlooking downtown, KICC was designed to be both aesthetically beautiful and sustainably built, earning the venue LEED Silver certification. KICC also earned and maintains the GBAC Accreditation, the gold standard in outbreak prevention, marking the commitment to a sanitized and safe facility. KICC features include 200,125 square feet of contiguous exhibit space; a 40,000-square-foot column-free ballroom, with color-changing LED walls, and 52 meeting rooms.

The center has a natural light-filled and community-engaging design reflecting Louisville's Bourbon culture. It’s kitchen has a 15,000-meals-per-day capacity and a coffee-by-day, bourbon-by-night experience called Oak & Brew. To meet the changing needs of clients, KICC created a production studio in 2020 to complement the state-of-the-art virtual conference theatre. The studio allows clients to pre-record videos, live stream, host panel discussions, virtual meetings, and more.

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TCF Center (Formerly Cobo Center)

TCF Center is the 17th largest convention facility in the U.S.. Built by the city of Detroit and opened in 1960, the venue recently completed a $279 million renovation to update environmental systems and add over 100 digital signs, including two exterior jumbotrons. The center has 723,000 square feet of exhibit space (623,000 contiguous), 100 meeting rooms, a 40,000-square-foot hi-tech ballroom and a three-story glass atrium that brings in spectacular views of the Detroit River and neighboring Windsor, Ontario.

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Greater Columbus Convention Center

In the heart of downtown Columbus, Ohio, the Greater Columbus Convention Center is a 1.7 million-square-foot multipurpose facility with a wide variety of flexible space for planners. Whether the event requires a 395-square-foot meeting room, a 74,000-square-foot ballroom or a 118,000-square-foot exhibit hall, the GCCC can comply. The center has earned LEED Silver certification and follows VenueShield protocols in partnership with the CDC and the National Institutes of Health to provide safe environmental hygiene.


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The Salt Palace Convention Center

In Salt Lake City, the first Salt Palace was built in 1899 but was destroyed by fire in 1910. An indoor arena with the same name was completed in 1969 and eventually demolished, and a brand-new convention center opened its doors in 1996. Major expansions in 2000 and 2005 have resulted in today’s nearly 700,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting-roos space. With 10 exhibit halls, a beautifully appointed Grand Ballroom and dozens of modular meeting roos, the venue can accommodate a wide variety of events.

Adjoined to the facility are the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art; Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah Symphony; and, now under construction for a 2022 opening, a new 26-story Hyatt Regency convention center hotel will add 700 guest rooms to the convention district, bringing the total number to 8,000. It will house 60,000 square feet of state-of-the-art indoor meeting space, including the 23,138-square-foot Regency Ballroom and a 14,682-square-foot junior ballroom.

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Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center

A true one-stop shop for event-goers, the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., has over 492,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, its largest able to accommodate up to 10,000 people, in 94 rooms, 101 maximum break rooms and a wide range of unique networking venues. Perched on the shore of the majestic Lake Grapevine, the property welcomes attendees to its 1,814 guest rooms, 4.5 acres of airy indoor garden atriums, four award-winning restaurants, a world-class spa and more, all convenient to DFW Airport and attractions like the Legoland Discovery Center and Historic Downtown Grapevine.

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Austin Convention Center

In the heart of Austin’s downtown business district, the four-story, LEED Gold-certified Austin Convention Center is an accredited GBAC Star Star Facility spanning six city blocks and offering 280,000 square feet of exhibit space. There are five column-free exhibit halls and two ballrooms that range up to 40,510 square feet, along with 54 meeting rooms and show offices. Ample parking is provided in two garages with 1,700 spaces. The center provides robust, complimentary WiFi: Over 20,000 wireless devices can connect simultaneously. The facility manages 90 percent of its services such as housekeeping, security, IT and exhibitor services, all provided by in-house trained staff. There are new video walls for additional wayfinding and client messaging to go along with a 24/7 network support team for event customization.

Finalist: Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center

About 16 miles south of Denver in the scenic city of Aurora, Colo., overlooking the Rocky Mountain Front Range, the 1,500-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center has lots of alpine charm, a water park, a spa and more than 500,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The property’s stunning Aurora Exhibit hall alone offers more than 179,520 square feet of space and connects to the 59,467-square-foot Aurora Ballroom as well as some 11,000 square feet of prefunction space. Nearby are attendee-friendly attractions such as the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club and the Stanley Marketplace.

Finalist: Irving Convention Center at Las Colina

With its unique architecture, vertical design and nearly 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas in Texas handles everything from philanthropy fundraisers to awards ceremonies to holiday parties and is LEED certified as eco-friendly. The sophisticated 20,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom seats more than 1,600 guests in a formal environment, while the Junior Ballroom can seat 200 for a more intimate gathering. On 40 acres in the heart of Irving’s Las Colinas Urban Center, the facility is just one phase of a mixed-use entertainment district that includes a 350-room Westin Convention Center Hotel and the Toyota Music Factory. 


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The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center

Alongside the Pacific Ocean in Southern Los Angeles, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center in 2020 transformed its campus into a fully integrated hybrid events facility. Known for its one-of-a-kind suite of turnkey venues, the center now includes Long Beach Live, an in-house digital production platform enabling a fusion of in-person and remote experiences for attendees. The center features more than 400,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space suitable for conventions, trade shows and gatherings of all sizes, with assistance from a full-service concierge/restaurant reservation desk, hospitality catering and an on-site A/V supplier.

Individual venues include 34 meeting rooms, a grand ballroom with 20,456 square feet of column-free space and spectacular views of Rainbow Harbor and the Queen Mary. The Long Beach Arena can accommodate up to 3,288 people for a banquet, 5,0009 for a reception, while various smaller spaces include the Beverly O’Neill, The Wave Pedestrian Bridge and the Terrace Theater Plaza & Lobby.

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Las Vegas Convention Center

Within a short distance of some 150,000 guest rooms, the iconic 4.6 million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center has 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space and 225 meeting rooms that can seat up to 2,500 attendees. Two grand lobby and registration areas efficiently link existing exhibit halls with new exhibit and meeting rooms, and allow simultaneous set-up, break-down and exhibiting of multiple events. The center recently won Star Facility accreditation by ISSA, a trade association for the cleaning industry, for rigorous sanitary practices against infectious agents such as the that which causes Covid-19.

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Reno-Sparks Convention Center

With 600,000 square feet of fully adaptable meeting space, the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Nevada is one of the larger such facilities in the U.S. The ground-level exhibition space alone provides enough room for over 2,000 exhibition booths for trade shows, and state-of-the-art wireless Internet is accessible throughout the center, able to assist 25,000 simultaneous users. The recently renovated RSCC is located just south of Downtown Reno, 10 minutes from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and has 2,400 first-class hotel rooms within five blocks. For planners, built-in cost savings include F&B pricing at 20 percent less than the national average.