Top-tier convention centers can be found in smaller cities.
With hundreds of thousands of square feet of meeting space, impressive amenities and sleek designs, these regional convention centers serve a wider region than their home cities and are equipped with expansive, versatile meeting and event spaces, valuable services and attentive staff. In these smaller town settings, attendees feel like VIPs.
Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, known as the DECC, is a sprawling collection of venues on Lake Superior that includes two convention centers, two arenas, multiple halls, boardrooms and meeting rooms. The Harbor Side Convention Center, which offers views of the Duluth Aerial Life Bridge and Duluth-Superior Bay, has a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and 4,400 additional square feet of meeting space. The City Side Convention Center has a 15,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 26,000-square-foot ballroom and additional breakout rooms. In total, the DECC contains 125,000 square feet of expo space, including Pioneer Hall, a 48,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which can be turned into a sports arena during the winter months, complete with indoor turf. The 7,377-seat AMSOIL Arena and the Duluth 10 Cinema add other possibilities.
Among DECC’s amenities are in-house catering focused on locally sourced ingredients and knowledgeable IT techs on-site. Its views of Lake Superior and easy access to downtown Duluth are also strengths.
“Our location in Duluth right next to Lake Superior and so many walkable amenities make this a favorite location for attendees,” said Lucie Amundsen, communication director at the DECC.
Dayton Convention Center
The Dayton Convention Center, a popular convention center in the Midwest, is in the heart of downtown Dayton, blocks from the Miami River, hotels, shopping and dining. It’s also easily accessible from interstates 71 and 75. A $40 million renovation that is now under way will modernize and upgrade the three-level center’s 150,000 square feet of meeting space.
The convention center hosts youth and amateur sporting events, hobby conventions and some military events because of the nearby National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“We are a smaller market, so these groups have the opportunity to be the big fish in the small pond,” said Christina Combs, senior sales manager at the Dayton Convention Center. “They get that Midwestern down-home service with a smile.”
The center’s 68,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall can be divided into smaller sections. There’s also a 9,000-square-foot ballroom, a 5,520-square-foot ballroom, a 672-seat theater and 22 additional meeting rooms for groups of 12 to 300. Center staff assist with event planning and exclusive caterer Celebrate Dayton can create custom menus for events ranging from breakfasts to cocktail receptions.
Ontario Convention Center
A glass exterior and palm trees greet visitors to California’s Ontario Convention Center, a stylish and well-equipped facility for meetings in the Southwest. Its sunny location 35 miles east of Los Angeles, next to the Ontario International Airport, makes the convention center appealing to events ranging from sporting competitions to SMERF gatherings, and many regional meetings from California and other states west of Texas.
There are 1,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, and museums, wineries and outlet shops nearby. Many attendees arrive early or stay late to explore the attractions of Southern California.
“Where we are centrally located in Southern California, you can stay here and play anywhere,” said Arlette Garabay, director of sales at the Ontario Convention Center.
The convention center has over 225,000 square feet of meeting space, and 70,000 square feet of that is a column-free exhibit space. There’s also 20,000 square feet of divisible ballroom space and 25,000 square feet of additional meeting rooms. An event services team works closely with planners and an in-house food and beverage team creates made-to-order menus for each event.
Rhode Island Convention Center
Providence, Rhode Island
Located in the smallest state in the U.S., the Rhode Island Convention Center is large enough to handle many meetings and events in the Northeast market. Its spaces are impressive: 100,000 square feet of divisible exhibit space, a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, a 4,000-square-foot junior ballroom and 23 meeting rooms. Plus, the center is connected to a 14,000-seat arena with 31,000 square feet of arena floor space and has two parking garages with 2,400 parking spaces. More than 2,000 hotel rooms are within a mile, including the adjacent Omni Providence Hotel, a luxury 564-room property with its own meeting space.
“The CVB’s slogan is book a city, get a state,” said Lawrence Lepore, general manager of the Rhode Island Convention Center. “We try to sell the destination as much as the building.”
Providence, Rhode Island’s capital city, is a destination known for its walkability, cuisine and its many university campuses, as well as its New England charm. From the convention center, it’s easy to reach fine dining options with an emphasis on fresh seafood, museums, galleries and theaters. A sky bridge connects the convention center to the Providence Place Mall, the largest shopping mall in Rhode Island.
Spokane Convention Center
On the banks of the Spokane River, the 300,000-square-foot Spokane Convention Center is a sleek and modern facility with views of the water and plenty of space.
The convention center includes a 120,000-square-foot exhibit hall; three ballrooms totaling over 50,000 square feet of space, including one that is 25,276 square feet; 30 meeting rooms, a 270-seat conference theater and several outdoor spaces like the Roof Deck and 9,200-square-foot Riverside Event Lawn.
The convention center is also connected to DoubleTree by Hilton Spokane City Center, a 375-room hotel with an additional 21,720 square feet of meeting space, and by skywalk to the luxurious Davenport Grand, a Marriott Autograph hotel with 716 guest rooms and 62,800 square feet of meeting space. Spokane’s walkable downtown is easy to reach from the convention center, so down time can be spent shopping, dining and seeing attractions.
Waco Convention Center
In Waco, a mid-sized city in the heart of Texas known for its easygoing and friendly atmosphere, the Waco Convention Center sits across the street from Indian Spring Park, the Brazos River and the Waco Suspension Bridge.
Its two levels include exhibition, ballroom and theater space. For exhibitions, there’s 33,000-square-foot Chisholm Hall and 15,000-square-foot McLennan Hall. The beautiful Brazos Ballroom features bamboo floors, access to a balcony with river views and nearly 14,000 square feet of space that can be divided in two. The Bosque Theater has 191 fixed seats.
Free parking is a plus, as is the attached 195-room Hilton Waco and its 8,000 square feet of meeting space.
Salt Palace Convention Center
Salt Lake City, Utah
The capital city of Utah is home to about 200,000 people and a convention center of nearly 1 million square feet. Built in 1995, the Salt Palace Convention Center features plenty of natural light and beautiful art throughout, as well as 515,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 45,000-square-foot ballroom and an additional 164,000 square feet of meeting space. An attached Hyatt Regency has 700 guest rooms. The Salt Palace has an on-site exclusive caterer and a preferred audiovisual vendor.
The convention center draws statewide, national and international events, from the local Comic-Con to the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference in 2019. Its ability to handle events of all sizes is enhanced by its commitment to sustainable and eco-friendly practices.
“We’ve catered to creating a sustainable future,” said Trisha Beagley, communications manager for ASM Global at the Salt Palace Convention Center. “We see ourselves as leading the way of having sustainable meeting space.”