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Meeting planners are applauding the difference a $2.8 million renovation has made at the Oshkosh Convention Center (OCC) in Oshkosh, a city of 63,000 on Lake Winnebago.

The center reopened in March with a new 16-seat boardroom, a patio that overlooks the Fox River, more breakout rooms and restrooms, updated sound and audio-visual equipment and 52-inch plasma televisions.

“Everybody noticed the changes the minute they walked in the door,” said meeting planner Glen Lienhard. “That facelift has made the center feel new and contemporary.”

GE Oil and Gas representative Gina Pittarelli has planned quarterly meetings for 200 at OCC. “Those new water views really dress up our meetings,” she said.

The annual meeting Lienhard plans uses the entire center for 350 of wholesale distributor A.I. McDermott’s trade customers. Many stay at the 179-room Oshkosh City Center Hotel (formerly the Park Plaza), which adds 7,000 square feet of meeting space to the convention center’s 22,500 square feet. The two properties are connected.

Among the center’s technological improvements is a device to assist hearing-impaired attendees. The Hearing Loop transmits the public-address system directly and wirelessly to hearing aids equipped with T-coils, eliminating background noise.

“I wasn’t sure how the Loop worked,” said Susan “Stella” Stellings, OCC manager. “So I asked a convention attendee who had a hearing aid. He told me that when he walked in, the volume was so clear he had to turn down his own hearing aid.”

Beyond the physical facility, OCC gets high marks for its staff.

“The center staff is great,” Pittarelli said. “I always have a lot of balls in the air, so I tell them exactly what I want, and they run with it. At our last meeting, the caterer noticed that our cookies were running low, found me and asked if I wanted more put out. They covered that base for me so I could pay attention to other details.”

One of Oshkosh’s favored off-site venues is tied to a major annual event.
The EAA Aviation Center, home to the AirVenture Museum, is the site of Air Venture air show.

“More than a half-million people attended 2009 Air Venture,” said Dana Ecker, director of sales for the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We can put on smaller, more intimate meetings out on the water by the convention center, as well as these huge air shows. Not every community can do that.”

At the aviation center, aviation history comes to life through static displays of historic aircraft in hangars that can be dressed up and used as event spaces.

For a setting on the lakefront, the Waters is a freshly renovated historic property with “the columned feel of Gone With the Wind,” said Ecker.

Sites like EAA and the Waters make Oshkosh distinctive; the city’s small size makes it a fiscal bargain.

“Planners can definitely get more bang for their buck in a smaller community,” said Ecker. “And it’s not like you have to wend your way through the North Woods. We’re just an hour and a half north of Milwaukee, yet groups can fish to their heart’s delight or get out on a pontoon and just relax.”

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