The success of the London Olympics is a positive legacy for our industry.
We were in a small auditorium in Scotland’s Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) as part of the PCMA Global Corporate Summit in July, listening to an overview of EICC’s expansion project, when the floor began to move - and the room slowly did a 180 to become part of a much larger arena. (See my write-up of the summit in our September issue.) The space’s flexibility and functionality were impressive, and not something I had ever experienced before. But my husband, who was with me, had. He recalled being part of a revolving-room demonstration at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
My only exposure to the World’s Fair has been my drive-bys on the Van Wyck Expressway, where the iconic, decaying structures look more like eyesores. Some of the World’s Fair grounds have been turned into parkland, but as I thought about this issue’s cover story (“Breaking Convention”) and CMP Series article (“Olympian Effort”) - both of which focus on a much more recent global gathering, the London Olympics - it seemed particularly ironic that such architecturally ambitious buildings never found a use in the 50 years since the futuristic event for which they were created took place.
For the organizers of the London Olympics, who repurposed an existing facility - ExCeL London - to host 13 Olympic and Paralympic competitions, and also created structures with a productive after-use in mind, legacy was the name of the Games. And in planning for this year’s Summer Olympics, organizers focused not only on what would become of the venue sites going forward, but also on what had been there before.
When I spoke with ExCeL Director of Conferences and Events James Rees after the Games, he told me that he was surprised by how interested Olympics visitors were in the history of the Docklands, where ExCeL is located - the bronze sculpture depicting dockers loading cargo where ExCeL stands today was a popular photo destination for fans. That spot and Canary Wharf - where I stayed during a pre-Olympics visit, at the 279-room, 22-suite, 20-event-room Marriott West India Quay Hotel - were formerly part of what was once the world’s largest port. By 1980, all of the docks closed, leaving eight square miles of blight.
The Docklands’ redevelopment has been a success, becoming a major business center and residential area, and assuming an important role as Olympic host. Overlooking the River Thames, the historic dock buildings have found new life as offices, restaurants, and shops, and today are juxtaposed with such striking new high-rises as the slender, curved, 32-story Marriott. It’s a stunning achievement. So it didn’t surprise me that Olympics spectators took to this feel-good success story. As James told me: “People were loving being there... in these amazing venues, in an area that was formerly rundown after the failure of the docking industry - and it’s all come good.”
Focused on the Center
The London Olympics is not the only recurring theme in this issue. We also turn our attention to convention centers in our cover story (“Breaking Convention”) and in our coverage of three women who have taken on leadership positions at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (see our Plenary lead story, “Executive Action at the OCCC”). Plus, our Working Smarter column (“Understanding Wi-Fi”) answers the burning question: If you can get free wireless at the McDonald’s down the street, why can’t you have it in the convention center during your meeting?