Planning both private and public events to kick off the grand opening of the brand-new $288 million Oklahoma City Convention Center was something the team members at 110 Events, Oklahoma City, were excited to be part of it because it was a significant accomplishment for their city. However, certain challenges made the launch a little more stressful than initially anticipated.
To begin with, the opening activities were planned during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “It took several months to plan this event because we had to push the date back multiple times based on rising COVID numbers. Each time we had to cancel and then re-plan the event,” says Christina Wright, CERP, CTA, director, 110 Events.
Everyone involved wanted the event to be a success, so ensuring safety and attendee comfort was paramount for the initial showcase of this 500,000-sq.-ft. center that includes a 200,730-sq.-ft. exhibition hall, a versatile 29,874-sq.-ft. ballroom with 5,000-sq-ft. of pre-function space, nearly 45,000-sq.-ft. of meeting space and a 9,276-sq.-ft. junior ballroom, plus glass walls that make use of natural light and features the “Virtual Sky,” a suspended sculpture, and a terrace that overlooks Scissortail Park.
To accomplish both safety and comfort goals, the opening was pushed to March 11, 2021.
This also meant significantly paring down the guest list for the VIP/private event. “The private event consisted of several dignitaries and people who have been working on this project for many years. It was hard to have to limit this list of people because so many contributed to the project, which was funded by a tax initiative in our city — an important public-private milestone,” Wright says.
The team at 110 Events worked closely with the center, the city and the company’s planning team “to ensure our guests and staff were safe,” she says.
For the private event, “we reduced the capacity to 150 invited guests. In addition, the center provided plexiglass and stanchions for the food stations, and all foods and beverages were provided by a server. The servers placed the food on plates and then attendees were socially distanced and able to grab a plate at each station. Attendees then sat at large round tables with only a few chairs placed at each table so they could remain socially distanced. Guests wore masks at all times except when they were eating. Group pictures were taken outside to provide room for distancing and airflow. Guests also arrived at different times for their photos to decrease people standing in lines,” Wright says.
For the public tours, “people registered to arrive at different times throughout the day on our online registration site to provide a good flow for social distancing. Masks were required. Hand sanitizing stations and masks also were available for use. Signage was provided to keep people moving in one direction, so they weren’t being crowded or crossing paths. We extended the hours for the public tours and provided a self-guided experience to limit contact and interaction with other guests. Over the course of eight hours, we had more than 2,500 people visit the new convention center,” she says.
To make sure everything went smoothly during these activities, several 110 Events staff were involved. For the VIP/private event, there were two lead planners, one coordinator, one audio-visual (AV) director, two AV techs and four setup/strike laborers. For the public event, 110 Events had two lead planners, six event staff and one AV tech.
All the months of planning paid off.
“It was a celebration of a long-awaited project for many people who worked very hard to make this vision a reality. The convention center did a great job of updating the team on restrictions and guidelines. Our staff and guests felt safe and were still able to experience the feeling of community you get when bringing people together,” she says.
For Wright and the rest of the 110 Events team, there was a real sense of pride not only in successfully executing the grand opening events but also in what the launch meant to the city.
“This event was a turning point for our city and industry — being able to open back up for events, meetings and conventions. The event and building signal that Oklahoma City is positioned to welcome guests and host in-person events much sooner than many other cities or states,” she says.