That slightly incredulous question kept popping into my mind last Thursday night, as I basked, along with 600 other guests, in the colors, sounds, and textures of the grand-opening celebration of a new special-event space at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.
The space — The Cove on Seaside Way — has, in fact, been established beneath an underpass at the convention center, but it was an underpass transformed. Sparkling chandeliers and gleaming starfish hung from the pocked gray concrete overhead; sofas and chairs, backed by lighted trees, circled glowing fire pits; and a row of food trucks sat parked on the blocked-off street, as theater-quality lighting and sound washed over it all.
The Cove is just the latest example of the center’s strategy of creating turnkey, flexible event spaces in what had been overlooked places. The space sits directly outside the center’s Seaside Ballroom, but many clients are looking for a less traditional and immersive environment than a ballroom for their events, said Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. What they are looking for is a factor that Goodling calls “hangability” — spaces that give you reasons to hang out for a while and connect with others, he said.
The design of the “hangable” open-air street-party was adopted directly from a special event held during the five years — from 2009–2013 — that TED was held in Long Beach. But although many of the elements were identical — like the surprise of a glittering chandelier hanging in a grittily utilitarian space and, in some cases, the exact same furniture, the event that was held last week exceeded the original TED event in many ways, said Katherine McCartney. who along with her sister Janet McCartney, produces TED events, and who both attended the party.
For example, the space features multiple murals — thanks to an annual POW WOW Long Beach! street art festival — along with barnacle-inspired sculptural lighting. And the space is adjacent to a new, elevated pedestrian bridge, which was built to resemble a breaking wave and will feature 3,500 LED lights and 70 LED floodlights.
And where TED created the party from scratch, paying to rent and install furniture and the lighting into the space themselves, everything — lighted ping pong tables, the fire pits, furniture, lighted and live trees, even the throw pillows — is owned by the center. Event organizers pay for the labor to move various elements in and out of the space but no rental fees. “You have no idea how important it is when you’re working with a budget to have a facility that already has so many great things worked into it,” said Janet McCartney, speaking to the crowd during the party.
The TED producers heaped praise on Goodling, whom Janet McCartney called “the most visionary person that we have worked with in the tourism industry. Steve Goodling is a godsend to this community,” she said. “Without Steve, we would not have been able to accomplish what we [wanted] to do here in Long Beach.”