Event planners are saying hello to Columbus in large numbers as Ohio’s largest and fastest-growing city flexes its meetings muscles. Geography makes a solid case for Columbus-based events, as more than 50 percent of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive or one-and-a-half-hour flight. Upon arrival at John Glenn International Airport, visitors are a short 10-minute drive from downtown and its 4,250 hotel rooms. Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus, notes that hospitality is a community-wide focus in Columbus, with more than 2,000 local industry associates holding an active Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) designation. “The number of CTAs is one of the highest levels of any U.S. city, and this pays dividends for our visitors,” says Ross. He’s not the only one singing his city’s praises. In 2016, J.D. Power and Associates named Columbus the “Best Visitor Experience Destination for a Midwestern City.” Read on to see why.
Anchoring events large and small is the newly renovated Greater Columbus Convention Center. In June, GCCC emerged from a $140 million renovation primed to increase the center’s already high rate of 61 percent repeat business, according to GCCC General Manager John Page.
“The project was conducted over 22 months in 24 separate phases, meaning the oldest portion of the center is barely 2 years old,” Page says. “Our design has incorporated an engaging aesthetic with wooden benches, soft natural light and large communal areas, making it convenient for attendees to remain on-site to connect and do business without returning to their hotel.”
GCCC has 373,000 square feet of exhibit space, 10,000 square feet of outdoor event space, 75 meeting rooms and three flexible ballrooms including the split-level Battelle Grand. (At 74,000 total square feet, it’s the largest ballroom in the state.) Page says GCCC plays host to around 350 events annually, with a sweet spot of 3,000 to 10,000 attendees.
High-tech amenities include a 60-foot video board, touch-screen kiosks delivering updates, Open Table dining reservations and entertainment information. Food-service provider Levy’s SmartFarm at the Center’s Discovery Café spotlights an indoor hydroponic vertical farm expected to yield 5,000 pounds of vegetables and herbs annually. GCCC also has specially equipped rooms for nursing mothers.
A Work of Art
The convention center’s art collection tells the cultural story of Columbus through the eyes of 100 regional artists whose contemporary works celebrate the inclusive and collaborative DNA of the community. The Center’s signature piece, “As We Are,” is a 14-foot interactive digital sculpture projecting faces of all who engage with it in an ever-changing display using more than 850,000 LED lights. Local artist Matthew Mohr hopes the work conveys Columbus as an “open and smart” city.