Baltimore Convention Center
Ready for Anything
Business View interviews Peggy Daidakis, Executive Director of the Baltimore Convention Center, for our focus on U.S. Conference & Event Venues
From car and boat shows to trade shows, conventions, and even a temporary hospital, the Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) can do it all.
The 1.2 million square-foot event facility, located in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland’s downtown business district, is the premier venue in the mid-Atlantic region for conventions, meetings, banquets, trade shows, and a variety of public and private events. They’re able to do this thanks to their prime location, dedicated staff, and flexible space.
“You can drive, you can take the train, you can fly in – we are very accessible,” says Peggy Daidakis, Executive Director for the BCC. “The airport is only six miles away, we are surrounded by hotels of varying price ranges and service amenities within walking distance. It’s a very walkable convention district, which is something that’s attractive for those who are planning national or international conventions. Once people get situated in their hotel they have the option of walking to the many restaurants, attractions, and to the facility itself without having to worry about cabs and bus transportation.”
The center’s 300,000 square-feet of exhibition space is almost completely column free, offering opportunities for clients to host almost any size and type of event imaginable. Daidakis explains, “We have 50 meeting rooms all on one level and we have a 36,000 square-foot ballroom on another level and then lots of open space where people can congregate and just hang out. Then there’s the outdoor terrace, complete with a green roof and herb garden. We are so very lucky. Many convention centers don’t have the luxury of having outdoor spaces, and we do. It’s very nice that they can catch a little flavor of the city by sitting under a tree.”
BCC has 150 full-time staff plus hundreds more on a contract-basis, depending on the event. The Center prides itself on maintaining a long-term staff that is highly trained and dedicated to providing top quality service to every event that comes through. “We have an obligation to showcase our city in a very friendly, professional, courteous way,” Daidakis says. “We get a lot of compliments about the team and our staff and their courtesy. I think that’s our strength – that our people want to be engaged with visitors in a positive way and leave a good impression.”
Before COVID-19 hit in 2020, BCC was holding up to 150 events per year. The pandemic brought that to a screeching halt, but that didn’t mean the center and its staff just sat idly by. When the world shut down, they became a 250-bed COVID field hospital facility. The governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency and established temporary hospital facilities throughout the state in case there was overflow needed from community hospitals.
Daidakis recalls, “The National Guard came in and erected cubicles with cots and we literally became a hospital. The University of Maryland Medical System, as well as Johns Hopkins, collaborated on providing the medical leadership to take care of patients that were transitioning from their stay in emergency or more high level care in the hospital to make room for new patients, and they would come here.”
The facility also became a warehouse space to house stockpiles of personal protective equipment that the government would dispense throughout the state, as well as a COVID-19 testing site and eventual vaccination distribution zone. Those uses occupied the facility continuously from March of 2021. Providing this necessary and essential service to their community was fulfilling, but took a toll on the convention center. Daidakis notes, “The field hospital officially wound down and went cold on June 15, 2021.” And now a new chapter for BCC begins.
Initially, the convention center faced hesitation from potential clients who were apprehensive about hosting events in the same building where patients of the virus were housed. “The perception was very concerning to them, even though there was quite a separation from where they were,” says Daidakis. With the government dismantling the hospital and redistributing the PPE to other warehouse options, the staff at the Baltimore Convention Center are now in the throes of preparing to have a full house again.
“We have been out of commission in terms of what we were meant to do for so long that, just like a car that’s been parked for a year and a half, it gets a little rusty,” Daidakis admits. “We’re in the process of regrouping with our teams and refreshing some of the protocols and teaching them some of the new protocols that we have because of the new way we’re going to be servicing events based on what happened with COVID.” Over 60 members of the staff have become Certified Custodial Technicians through ISSA, the World-Wide Cleaning Industry Association.
In September of 2020 the Center was granted the GBAC STARTM accreditation for facilities. GBAC, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, is the gold standard for facilities in cleaning disinfection, and infectious disease prevention. To prepare, they have upgraded the center’s air filters and added hand sanitizing stations throughout, as well as touchless technology that includes hands-free credit card receptacles, coffee dispensers, toilets, faucets and water dispensers. They will also be working with clients based on their level of comfort. If needed, BCC can provide social distancing markers, mask requirements and infrared thermometers for gauging temperatures.
“We’ve been getting ready for reopening since the day we closed the Center in March and anticipating what the needs would be beyond just hand sanitizers,” Daidakis says. “Our teams have been busy working and being quite innovative and collaborating with other facilities around the country who are going through the same thing we are.”
Prior to the pandemic, they placed a lot of focus on sustainable meetings. Now that operations are moving toward normalcy once again, they are hoping to return to that priority. In 2018 they began a food waste reduction study to discover ways they could reduce waste, while also helping other community partners.
“The Maryland Food Bank, one of our main community partners, has a system “Meal Connect” that allows the Center to get large or small amounts of food leftover from events into other facilities who feed food vulnerable populations says Jennifer Douglass, BCC’s Communications & Marketing Manager. “They have a system – our deputy director calls it the ‘Uber of food’ – where say we have a gala and the gala has anything from 400lbs of macaroni and cheese to two pounds of chicken, we put the leftover food into the system. In live time, non-profit organizations are able to tune into that and an organization that has a food kitchen and are ready to feed people that day, are able to do so with that food.”
For food that isn’t fit for human consumption, BCC has a system that lets local pig farmers take leftover vegetables as feed. “It allows the farmer to spend less money, and so put their product out for less money, while also helping the community,” Douglass says. “It was really a wonderful way of repurposing something that would end up in the landfill otherwise.
It’s not just food the BCC is donating to the community. Conventions and meetings come with a variety of by-products that typically end up in a landfill after an event has ended. So instead of throwing these items away, they will be donated to various community organizations. They also partner with an organization called Second Chance, which trains at-risk individuals to dismantle older, abandoned homes in the Baltimore area and sell items of value. “It gives those people jobs and also a new skillset,” Douglass explains. “So a lot of times, especially when we have large conventions, we’re able to send items there that can be used in construction or for other purposes.”
Looking further into the future, Daidakis hopes to see some infrastructure upgrades to the facility, which was first opened in 1979 and expanded in 1996. “My team has done a wonderful job in trying to keep things as up to date as possible, but the infrastructure needs to be revisited,” she says. “We’ve started a conversation about renovation and modernization of the facility and if we can add more space.”
But for now, their focus is just getting things back to the way they were before the pandemic hit. “It’s going to take a couple years, and we are anxious to get that back and robust and hopefully even expand the number of events and attendees from even before COVID,” Daidakis shares. “I’d like us to focus on just creating an atmosphere that people want to come to and find pleasure in being here.”
Since this interview the Center welcomed 800 plus attendees from Destinations International July 13-15, 2021. The Center anticipates a return to a full convention schedule in October of this year.
AT A GLANCE
Baltimore Convention Center
WHAT: A 300,000-square-foot facility for meetings, conventions and public and private events
WHERE: Downtown Baltimore, Maryland