After a difficult year, Columbus is prepping for brighter days with the launch of new experiences and a continued commitment to safety, social justice, and collaboration — all with the goal of helping meeting organizers create memorable events for their attendees.
Jeff Warren, CMP, is witnessing firsthand what Harvard Business School has called “The Columbus Way” of doing business — taking a helpful, community-driven approach. Warren, director of business development at the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM), has been working with Experience Columbus and its partners to plan the group’s 2021 annual conference and expo as a hybrid event based in the Ohio city. Originally scheduled for May, the conference was moved to September and then to October — but with a caveat: Instead of the traditional event welcoming 1,500 conference participants and 1,000 expo participants over four-and-a-half days, Warren wanted to split the event into two “waves” in order to accommodate potential social-distancing requirements and keep everyone safe.
Columbus happily obliged, Warren said, to both the changing dates and the conference design. “They’ve been extremely flexible with everything we’ve considered,” he said. “When we discussed doing the wave format, Experience Columbus set up a conference call with the convention center, the hotels, and other partners to work things out together. They already have a system in place to accommodate the wave format, so organizing went smoothly.”
Now the conference will take place in two waves of three-and-a-half days each, with a limit of 750 attendees per wave (at this time). The expo will be held over two days in between the two waves, and conference content will be mirrored back-to-back for both waves. Each wave gets its own keynote speaker, opening reception, and lunches — which won’t be the typical buffet for safety reasons.
Levy Restaurants, F&B partners at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, “were very forward-thinking with their approach,” Warren said, adding that it will be safely delivered and “something unique.”
Warren noticed how Columbus makes safety its top priority beyond his interaction with Levy. All the partners he dealt with were involved in several webinars set up to communicate Columbus’s approach to safety, from its Live Forward Pledge for Columbus businesses to room cleaning at hotels and sanitation protocol at the convention center. “They have shared a lot of knowledge with us already and have even offered to do a live Q&A webinar with my attendees or members of the association.”
Warren, who used to live and work in Columbus, said he isn’t surprised by the helpful, can-do attitude he’s been met with while planning his conference in the city. And, he said, he’s excited to get back to Columbus for his event.
“Columbus gets the short end of the stick sometimes because it doesn’t have the brand-name pull of a Chicago or Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “But you feel safe there, you’re well-fed, and you truly come back feeling like you went to a conference but you were at home the entire time. You always feel comfortable and at home there. They really take care of you.”
Coming Soon to Columbus
Columbus is preparing for the return of travel and conventions with a new hotel, a hotel expansion, and new entertainment and dining offerings. Here’s what planners and their attendees can expect in 2021 and beyond.
Columbus Crew Stadium: Columbus Crew SC, the city’s Major League Soccer team, will have a new home in downtown’s Arena District by July 2021. The 20,000-seat stadium will have a continuous wraparound roof, a 360-degree concourse, event space, a 3,400-capacity standing section, and two patio decks. It will sport a Major League Soccer first with the Nordecke Beer Garden — a 5,000-square-foot brew hall that will be open even on non-match days.
The new stadium will be part of a larger mixed-use development behind Huntington Park, home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers — the farm team to the MLB’s Cleveland Indians. And because the area is anchored by Nationwide Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets, all of Columbus’ professional sports teams and facilities will be within steps of one another, just blocks from the convention center.
Budd Dairy Food Hall: The historic Budd Dairy building in the city’s emerging Italian Village neighborhood will be transformed into the Budd Dairy Food Hall, a restaurant incubator offering spaces for entrepreneurial, chef-driven concepts. This new food destination from Cameron Mitchell Restaurants will open in 2021 and will include a live-performance stage, multiple bars, interactive games, private event space, and a rooftop deck.
Hilton Columbus Downtown Expansion: The Hilton Columbus Downtown, a headquarter hotel of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, is about to become the largest hotel in Ohio. Currently under construction, the hotel’s new, 468-room tower will bring the total number of rooms at the property to 1,000. The total on-site meeting space will grow to 75,000 square feet with the addition of a rooftop event space and a new restaurant. The expansion will be complete in 2021 and the hotel is currently booking business for 2022 and beyond.
AC Hotel by Marriott: Opening in 2021, a new, 160-room AC Hotel by Marriott is under construction just two blocks from the convention center in the heart of downtown. It’s part of a new development on Park Street across from the North Market.