Spokane Convention Center
The Spokane Convention Center is a community hub, and a riverside haven for every occasion.
Business View talks with representatives of the Spokane Convention Center for our focus on convention and events facilities.
Standing with pride in the heart of downtown Spokane, the Convention Center is more than a venue, it’s an architectural delight, blending the convenience of urban amenities with the beauty of the Spokane River. Featuring an expansive campus, this premier event space is connected to the First Interstate Center. Together, these facilities offer flexible spaces, sustainable practices, cutting-edge technology, and a seasoned team to ensure successful events of any nature.
The convention center itself offers over 300,000 square feet, featuring a 120,000 sq ft exhibit hall, three ballrooms, and 38 breakout spaces. The design emphasizes a connection with nature, incorporating a north-facing window wall for ample natural light and scenic river views. Local art installations and outdoor spaces like the roof deck and riverside terrace further enhance the community ambiance, providing a picturesque backdrop for events from spring to fall.
A true gem, the uniqueness of the Spokane Convention Center lies in their mission, which is to enhance the quality of life in the community. CEO Stephanie Curran elaborates, “We do that by creating jobs, and by placemaking. We create spaces for people to gather, we generate money into the economy. We support the small businesses and restaurants, and the larger businesses like the hotels. That’s really why we exist and what our mission is every day.”
A Brief History
Established in 1989, the Spokane Public Facilities District, which runs the Spokane Convention Center, was born out of a visionary move by the Washington State Legislature. Recognizing the growing demands on city budgets, they created public facilities districts, which Curran describes as “a taxing authority, similar to a small city, that would focus on venues.” Spokane was the pioneer, creating a model known as the Spokane Public Facilities District, that would later be emulated across the state. Evolving from an old coliseum and the need for a new arena, the district now oversees five facilities: Spokane Convention Center, Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, First Interstate Center for the Arts, The Podium, powered by STCU and the ONE Spokane Stadium. “We’re very unique in the fact that we pretty much have one of every type of venue,” she portrays. “In most cities, one organization would potentially run the convention center, and another organization would run the arena, but I don’t think there are any other cities actually, that have one of everything.”
Adapting to Challenges
Not immune from the challenges brought by COVID, Spokane Convention Center was fortunate to be able to keep staff employed and turn adversity into opportunity. Remaining operational even during the shutdowns, allowed the center to be prepared for the post-COVID resurgence, which they are still experiencing today. “We were in a position financially, where I didn’t have to lay everybody off. We are publicly funded, we generate our own profit, but we do get tax revenue. I’m always conscious of the public tax dollars and being a good steward of them. So, I couldn’t just keep people on and pay them to do nothing,” Curran maintains. “We kept working and that enabled us to have a lot of business on the books when we reopened. We didn’t have to start from square one and find out who had gone and found other jobs.”
The pandemic also prompted safety and efficiency upgrades at the Spokane Convention Center. While not initially eligible for any funding, the Spokane Public Facilities District eventually secured CARES grants from Spokane County, enabling crucial enhancements to meet COVID standards. These included the installation of advanced air filters and the adoption of cashless and contactless systems, setting a precedent for ongoing event hosting. According to Curran, these upgrades not only prioritized safety but also embraced outdoor access, allowing attendees to step outside for fresh air and a walk during meetings.
The experience gained from operating the arena and performing arts center was beneficial in adapting security measures to include metal detectors at the Convention Center. Although initially met with some pushback, Curran says, “We were just diligent about training people that this is the new way, and you just have to adapt to it. I think a lot of convention centers probably don’t use them. It’s a massive, massive expense, not only just to purchase the metal detectors, but also to staff.” These proactive measures illustrate the center’s commitment to security and ensuring a safe environment for all staff and attendees.
A Successful Event Year
In the dynamic landscape of post-COVID events, Nic Lawrence, Senior Event Manager, reflects on a whirlwind year at the Spokane Convention Center. He says the center has experienced a surge in activity, resembling three years’ worth of events condensed into one, with a mix of repeat business and the rescheduling of national events that were initially impacted by the pandemic. “It’s been wild,” he admits. “It’s kind of been fast and furious recently with all of that.”
Notable among these events was the Christian Missionary Alliance conference, boasting an impressive attendance of 5000 participants who made full use of the expansive convention center. From credit union conventions and tech conferences to the Be Bold for Jesus conference, another gathering of 5000 with the added allure of comedians and former American Idol contestants, the center has become a hub for diverse gatherings.
The resurgence in sports events has also played an important role in the center’s revival, with sports being one of the first sectors to rebound post-COVID. “People wanted their kids to play,” explains Jessica Deri, Director of Sales. “And because we have so many venues, the convention center gets utilized to host things like middle school basketball, and other tournaments. We really do everything in our building.” With a hall that flexes to 120,000 square feet, the Spokane Convention Center has the potential to host a wide range of events. “We have everything from combines that come in, in February, flipping to volleyball a couple of weeks later, and then we flip it for a 4000 person General Session. Literally everything goes on in there. It’s really cool,” she adds.
Valued Partnerships and Collaboration
Deri points to Visit Spokane, and Spokane Sports as key partners in marketing the venue nationally, especially amid shifting trends. She relays, “One of the great things coming out of COVID is people don’t want to go to the big cities anymore. Groups that only would ever go to the big flashy cities, now they want to go somewhere new and walkable and outside. So, it has opened up some new opportunities for us, which is fantastic.” The center’s unique advantage of having two attached hotels, Marriott and Hilton Properties, offers a diverse yet integrated experience under one roof, another marketable feature. “You don’t ever have to go outside, but it’s three different experiences,” Deri describes. “So that is one thing that we really lean into. People like that a lot.”
The Spokane Public Facilities District’s success is further amplified through partnerships with entities such as West Coast Entertainment, responsible for the Best of Broadway programming, the United Soccer League (USL) occupying the Spokane Stadium along with Spokane Public Schools, and the renowned junior hockey team, the Spokane Chiefs. With a staff of 100, Deri emphasizes the importance of contracted services, including the in-house caterer Levy, event staffing service CSC, TicketsWest, and others, which greatly contribute to the overall success of the district’s facilities.
Curran underscores the value of regional collaboration, which has played a key role in projects like The Podium, powered by STCU. She shares that partnership with the county involved the issuance of bonds, providing necessary funds with an agreement for repayment. The city contributed $5 million, and the park contributed land. Seeking state support, the Spokane Public Facilities District secured almost $3 million over three years. These efforts extended to the construction and operation of the Spokane Stadium, where the school district facilitated building construction, and the two entities are working together to optimize its utilization. “So, literally anybody out there that we could partner with, we did,” she acknowledges. “I think people sometimes feel like if you partner you’re giving up some power, but you’re actually enhancing your power by an amount you can’t even measure. I’m all about it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but without it, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Looking to the Future
The district, in collaboration with Visit Spokane and Spokane Sports, is embracing a collective vision for the future. Curran recounts, “I’m really excited to be focusing not just on each individual venue, but the PFD as a whole, and then outwardly to what we’re doing for the community and what our role is in creating a better quality of life and better economics and opportunities for people to experience arts and culture and meetings.” Internally, the Spokane Convention Center is also focused on employee well being and supporting what work life balance looks like for individuals, aligning with the overarching goal to continue to create meaningful experiences. “People get married in our buildings, they graduate, they take their engineering exam, they see their first Broadway show, they take their kid to their first concert, they see their favorite artists. There are so many memories that are created in our buildings,” she concludes.
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AT A GLANCE
Spokane Convention Center
What: A 300,000 square foot convention center, part of the Spokane Public Facilities District
Where: Downtown Spokane, Washington
Website: www.spokanecenter. com
Levy Restaurants – www.levyrestaurants.com
Urban Falls Kitchen partners with Spokane Public Facilities District to serve guests at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, Spokane Convention Center, One Spokane Stadium, First Interstate Center for the Arts, and the Podium. UFK is operated by Levy Restaurants, the market leading hospitality partner of major convention centers, cultural attractions, and sports and entertainment venues.
Spokane Sports – www.spokanesports.org
Spokane successfully hosts up to 70 major sporting events each year, from USA Karate National Championships to NCAA basketball, in first-rate facilities. See why this friendly, accessible, sports-nuts city is the place to host your next event.