Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
THE South Carolina venue of choice
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center for our focus on the U.S. Hospitality & Events Sector
A jewel in the heart of South Carolina’s historic capital city, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center (CMCC) loves to show off to its guests.
The 142,500-square-foot modern architectural event space is centrally located in Columbia’s Vista entertainment district, just steps away from more than 60 restaurants, bars, boutique shops, art galleries, coffee shops, and more. The area is constantly bustling with events, festivals, and live music year-round thanks to the area’s welcoming climate.
“We are the only convention center located in a downtown metropolitan area in all of South Carolina,” says Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center General Manager Cheryl Swanson. “It’s a vibrant district and within a mile there are more than 2000 hotel rooms.”
The Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center boasts a 16,700 square-foot ballroom, a 23,700 square-foot, column-less exhibition hall, and more than 18,000 square feet of meeting space that can be broken up into 19 individual rooms. It plays host to happenings that run the gamut from sporting events to educational conferences, religious events, and non-profit galas.
“Part of why it’s fun is the diversity in clients,” says Sarah Britt, Director of Sales for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. “Our largest markets are typically corporate, association and education, but we have seen huge growth in the sports market during COVID. We’ve done a lot of dance and cheer over the past two years, in addition to grappling, taekwondo, jujitsu, bodybuilding, all of those things.”
In addition to its prime location, CMCC stands out in the world of event centers for a few reasons. One, being technology. “We are able to accommodate the rising technology demands for clients,” Britt explains. “We have the ability to upgrade Wi-Fi as needed, which is useful especially now that everybody is wanting to live stream or have a virtual component. Our ability to offer those needs for clients is not found everywhere. It makes us competitive and allows us to keep things new and relevant.”
CMCC has retrofitted former payphone areas to become charging stations, added fiber internet to the building, and have upgraded to digital signage on all meeting rooms. Clients can also rent out an LED wall that was added to the concourse area to share content such as video and sponsors.
In addition to technology, CMCC has made partnerships with trusted vendors to provide clients with full service events. Clients can connect with PRX Exposition Services or Party Reflections for their complete decorating or tradeshow needs, including tenting, linens, tables, chairs, and pipe and drape. South Carolina AV (SCAV) offers full audio visual services for events allowing the convention center to connect clients to a quality in-house partner that can meet all of their presentation, as well as hybrid and streaming needs. Britt acknowledges, “These partnerships allow us to offer additional resources to our clients – people that we know have quality things that can support their meetings, without us having to sustain a huge inventory of event-related things.
What really sets the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center apart is its high quality, custom catering through hospitality company OVG 360, formerly known as Spectra. “In general, convention centers aren’t typically known for food and beverage, because it’s usually done on a larger scale and it’s harder to produce things that are custom and high quality,” Britt says. “So that is a unique factor in our facilities. We can produce plated meals for 800, 900, 1000 people at the superior level of a hotel restaurant. Our chef came from high-end hotels in the past, so it’s definitely a great selling feature.”
CMCC offers customizable menus, using ingredients that are sourced regionally. Britt adds, “Our chef is a great champion of our sustainability, which is kind of unique for a convention center. Because we do a lot of custom menus, he does a lot of the sourcing of our products. And during the growing season, which in South Carolina is spring, summer and fall, we are able to source about 80 percent of what we use, regionally, within 150 miles. It’s nice for the clients because it’s fresh and local and lowers the carbon footprint of what we’re sourcing as well.”
Sustainability is always top of mind for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. It was actually built in 2004 to include environmentally conscious elements, and they have continued to add and upgrade them ever since. “Even before sustainability was super trendy, it made sense for us to operate efficiently,” Britt says. The building features large, multi-storey-height glass walls which were constructed of low-e glass to help protect from South Carolina’s high summer heat. In 2015, they took it one step further by upgrading to an automated control system for the building’s HVAC.
“The windows help reflect the sun and manage the heating and cooling in the facility,” Britt notes. “The HVAC allows us to closely control the heating and cooling in the building. If it’s not rented, we don’t necessarily heat it and cool it to a client comfort level. We have it come on only an hour before client access time.”
Every bulb in the building has been changed to LEDs, which reduced CMCC’s electricity bill by 67 percent, and they have also introduced a composting system that allows them to divert a significant amount of waste out of local landfills. A cardboard baler was purchased in 2019, which allows the Center staff to bale their own cardboard and sell it to a recycling facility. “Again, that’s more that we can keep from going to waste,” Britt says. “We track our waste diversion and try to save costs and also keep things out of the landfill.”
Being a popular space for large-scale events, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center was hit hard when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down in March 2020. The facility was closed from March to June of that year, but soon reopened with strict protocols to help make their events run smoothly and safely. “We implemented all of the required social distancing and face covering requirements, as well as all the cleaning requirements, and ultimately we achieved GBAC certification that validates that we are cleaning to the standards necessary to mitigate any viruses or health risks in this facility,” Swanson recalls. “We were very proud of that and we obviously continue those practices to this day. We were one of the few facilities that opened up that early, and while we weren’t very busy, we were able to successfully navigate and hold multiple events.”
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center invested thousands of dollars into MERV 13 HVAC filters to mitigate the risk of virus spread, scheduled cleaning of high touch surfaces every 15-30 minutes, and meticulously measured rooms to ensure for effective social distancing. “We made it our business to be the experts at how to mitigate risks for those who wanted to gather and that really helped us sustain,” Britt states. “We kind of paved the way for people who needed and wanted to gather during that time. That helped us adapt to sustain business, even though it was slower at the time.”
Business at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center has now returned to its pre-pandemic levels. Events are happening at the same frequency as 2018-2019, however attendance at those events is still below normal. In general, they are seeing attendance down 20 to 30 percent – for future bookings and bookings that are happening right now.
Using their pandemic-earned knowledge and expertise, CMCC has been helping its clients to communicate the safety measures put in place that will help attendees feel more comfortable in a large group setting. “This is a lot of groups’ first conference back and they were hesitant on the attendance,” Britt reports. “Our preventative measures we put in place in 2020 have paid dividends moving forward because we were able to help communicate that and make people more comfortable coming to the events that are booked now as we move out of it. We are providing language to our clients who can then send it out as they market their event to help people feel more comfortable.”
Those efforts seem to be working well. According to Britt, “There were periods of time during 2020 and early 2021 when everyone was talking about a ‘new normal’ for events, but we’ve been very fortunate, and you can sense with attendance and with clients that everyone is anxious to get back together. There’s plenty of demand there.”
As attendance numbers start to rise again, Britt and Swanson are both hopeful that increase in traffic will lead to even more growth within and outside the walls of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Swanson shares, “Many of our events have outgrown our space and we would like to grow to be able to accommodate those and also have the economic impact that it provides to the community.”
AT A GLANCE
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
WHAT: A 142,500 square-foot event space located in a bustling entertainment district
WHERE: Columbia, South Carolina
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