Renovation of Oregon Convention Center Enhances Portland’s Image as Meeting Destination
Demonstrating Diversity and Inclusion: The $40M Oregon Convention Center Update Spotlights the State’s Unique Beauty
With eyes on the prize of maximizing Portland’s image as a premier meeting destination, the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) has completed an ambitious, $40 million renovation project. The expansive remodeling endeavor includes updates to many of the OCC’s public spaces, improving accessibility, providing greater flexibility in space options, and upgrading its design elements.
Coupled with the recent opening of the Hyatt Regency Portland – a new 600-room hotel adjacent to the Center – the renovated venue promises to raise its national profile as a competitive destination for meetings, conferences, and conventions. The OCC is able to accommodate small to very large groups while also enhancing the surrounding neighborhood.
The OCC is the Pacific Northwest’s largest convention complex, with 255,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, two ballrooms, 52 individual meeting rooms and a full-time staff of over 120; space totals 1 million square feet. For fiscal year 2018, OCC generated $528.4 million in economic impact for the metropolitan region and more than $20.6 million in state and local tax revenues.
Renovation Adds Space, Technology, and Accessibility Improvements
Planning for the renovation project began in 2013, at a time when OCC leaders saw the need to upgrade its meeting and convention offerings. As Oregon Convention Center Executive Director Craig Stroud relates, “Because our building was originally built in 1990, the need for a comprehensive venue refresh became apparent when collaborative discussions began between key Portland stakeholders, including organizations such as the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission (MERC) and Portland’s regional government body, Metro, pointing to the need for a convention center hotel in Portland. It was obvious from those discussions that updates to our space needed to be made.”
Stroud says OCC’s “wish list” of new and redesigned features was fairly simple to narrow down, as the changes made were focused on improving the design, accessibility, and flexibility to the venue. He points out, however, that actually bringing those changes to life took years of talks, careful planning and finally, months of actual construction.
“Accessibility and wayfinding were major renovation focal points,” Stroud says. “Highlights include sleek, illuminated signage making it easier than ever to navigate our venue, as well as a completely new corridor, internally referred to as the Level 1 Connector. Navigating from one side of our building to the other used to require using numerous staircases, escalators and elevators – presenting a challenge for our visitors, particularly for those with mobility limitations. Now, the Level 1 Connector provides guests the ability to cross the entirety of our venue’s first and largest floor without having to change levels — greatly reducing the need to use multiple escalators and elevators. Adding this corridor has greatly increased accessibility and ease for all OCC guests and employees navigating our building.”
The OCC renovation has also added more multi-use gathering spaces and tools to support an array of different event needs, including the addition of the most current AV, projection and lighting equipment to the main ballrooms, and wooden tiered stair seats complete with charging outlets.
Design Themes Drew Inspiration From Oregon’s Natural Beauty
The Center worked with multiple local Pacific Northwest firms for the renovation. OCC partnered with Colas Construction as the general contractor for the project. Seattle-based LMN Architects designed the renovations, with Merryman Barnes Architects tapped as the associate architect firm. Mayer/Reed acted as the landscape architectural firm and environmental graphics designer. Glumac was brought on as the MEP engineer, Seattle-based Magnusson Klemencic Associates was the structural engineer, and KPFF was the civil engineering firm.
While Colas served as the overall lead contractor, Raimore Construction handled exterior renovation work that included a new entry canopy and a revamped north plaza with a new amphitheater-like area.
LMN Architects’ contract for the renovation design was issued in October 2016. Colas Construction received official notice to proceed with renovation construction in September 2018, and the project was complete in October 2019.
The renovation was broken into three phases. The first and second phases focused on new carpeting, wall treatments and signage featuring color schemes and materials that pay tribute to elements of nature that define the state of Oregon. The final phase focused on the Oregon Ballroom and an associated pre-event area.
As Stroud relates, “To invoke a sense of place, OCC drew inspiration from the beauty of Oregon’s natural landscape when designing creative aspects of our refreshed venue, adding unique design touches such as lichen-inspired carpets, bold furniture pieces in cool shades and textured wallpaper echoing the imagery of a forest grove.
“Renovating the Oregon Ballroom and its gathering area was done with the intention of creating a beautiful and inspirational gathering space,” he continues. “Notable ballroom renovation design aspects are the intricate, three-dimensional ceiling installations that have been installed. The ceiling in the ballroom is constructed from over a thousand individual wood-like ceiling pads that appear as a tree canopy to those looking up, while the gathering space outside of the ballroom features a ceiling that reflects the topography of the Cascade Mountain range. Both stunning, uniquely-Oregon installations serve as graceful reminders that OCC is Oregon’s convention center.”
Meeting the Challenges of Construction During a Busy Event Schedule
The large-scale project was completed on-time and on-budget; Stroud says that since talks about the renovation started some years ago, the OCC team was able to take its time in laying out specific needs and goals of the project before construction began.
“During construction, we worked closely with Colas Construction, and our chosen architecture firms, so there were no surprises,” he comments. “Now, we also have an incremental plan in place to update and evaluate our venue every couple of years. So hopefully, because of our collaborative planning, the Oregon Convention Center won’t need another major renovation for the next 20 years.”
The ambitious remodeling was not only the Center’s first large-scale renovation since the venue was built – it was also completed during OCC’s busiest year-to-date. As Stroud reports, “OCC hosts an average of 500 events and welcomes more than 600,000 guests annually, resulting in events of varying sizes and purposes taking place at all times of the day. OCC never shut its doors throughout the renovation process, so managing construction while events occurred simultaneously was a major challenge.
“With this challenge in mind, and to keep ourselves organized, a detailed impact calendar was created. The calendar depicted each meeting room, divided into four-hour windows every day, mapping out the type of work that could occur depending on the events taking place in that specific area. It also outlined where construction was scheduled to take place, and how loud that work would be on a one-to-five scale, which was crucial. For example, the Microscopy and Microanalysis 2019 show was held at OCC during construction. Because of the delicate instruments they were using, no construction was allowed during the show because of the potential for creating disrupting vibrations. Because of our team’s careful planning, and the use of our impact calendar, we were able to hold successful events while continuing construction without disturbance.”
Project Demonstrates Diversity and Inclusion
Renovation of the Oregon Convention Center has not only resulted in a new look for the event center; it has also received much attention as a positive example of how contracting on public projects can be structured to support diversity and inclusion.
With Colas Construction and project partner Raimore Construction, the renovation set records both for the largest public contract in the state awarded to a minority-owned company as a prime contractor at the time, and for the percentage of small emerging businesses and women-, minority- and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses awarded contracts on a public project.
Says Stroud, “OCC prioritized working with an array of different partners and individual contributors to ensure that the renovation was truly an inclusive project incorporating different points of view, resulting in a project OCC’s entire community could take pride in. Colas Construction was an outstanding partner throughout the entire renovation process. Colas’ relationships were instrumental in bringing skilled Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity (COBID)-certified subcontractors to the remodel, resulting in 51 percent of the project contractors being COBID-certified firms and 35 percent of the total hours worked conducted by minorities.”