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Conference & Convention Centers Help Fuel Activity in Destinations Around the State

By Julie Bielenberg

There are six conference and convention centers that are not part of hotels or resorts that are cornerstones of Colorado’s meetings and events industry. These facilities are presenting fresh ideas and impressive expansions and are situated in some of most attractive locations in the Centennial State.

Colorado Convention Center

With the huge Blue Bear sculpture peeking into a large wall of windows, Colorado Convention Center (CCC) is a constant reminder of Denver’s booming meetings trade. Located in downtown Denver and surrounded by cultural opportunity around every corner, groups have long been attracted to its size, variety of meeting and events spaces and dedication to sustainability. CCC was the first convention center in the nation to receive Level One certification from ASTM, is Denver’s largest LEED-certified building and employs a sustainability manager.

A big bonus is that attendees can easily walk the 16th Street Mall, while planners are able to tap a huge range of hotels from historic to brand new. Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center and Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Downtown Convention Center are among the closest.

Comic Con, a fun consortium of talent and memorabilia, has hosted all seven of its annual events at CCC. “Honestly, it’s the only place big enough in the state to house all of our attendees,” remarks Christina Angel, PhD, convention director for Denver Comic Con, whose parent company is Pop Culture Classroom. “We have over 100,000 people over a course of three days and we use 450,000 square feet of exhibition space, in addition to breakout rooms and theaters.” 

Angel and her team are educators; therefore, putting together a monstrous-size event was most of the challenge. “We’re in the classroom most of the time, so we really have to rely on the incredible staff at CCC to facilitate and predict our needs. We were very green when we came into this, and with the assistance of their team, we continue to grow each year, and the best part is CCC gives us the opportunity to grow with their space and staff.”

And growing is exactly what’s on CCC’s agenda. In 2019, work will start on a new addition that includes a ballroom, space for preparation and service, and an outdoor terrace.  

Keystone Conference Center

As the largest conference center in Colorado’s mountains, Keystone Conference Center (KCC) can accommodate diverse programming with flexible meeting space and provide alternative venues such as golf courses, stables and unique dining options at places like Alpenglow Stube, the highest AAA Four Diamond restaurant in North America, and the recently expanded Labonte’s Smokehouse. 

Open year-round, Keystone Resort hosts A Taste of Keystone, which in 2017 featured a laser light show and food from Keystone’s culinary team staged around the nearby lake so guests could nosh between fun activities like paddle boarding and canoeing.

Ann Terry, executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado, holds large-scale events at KCC. “Keystone provides our members with an experience that is unmatched in terms of exquisite food, amazing staff that remembers us from year to year, and a perfect mountain setting,” she says. 

Snowmass Conference Center

Built in 1985 by the Town of Snowmass Village, the Snowmass Conference Center was acquired by the new owners of the Starwood Capital Group in 2011. “The property is built directly into the side of the mountain,” explains Nicole Kubitza, complex director of sales and marketing for the company’s two local hotels and conference center. “Our most popular room to book is just shy of 11,000 square feet and offers endless options. We are fortunate to get much repeat business, as groups enjoy the flexibility and offerings on the mountain. It’s easy for attendees to pop out into the fresh air and get right on the mountain.”

A cardiology conference returns each January, and attendees usually bring their families. Kubitza notes, “We might have 100- 200 attendees for the conference, but with families, it can get close to 400, and that is when our amenities, such as The Westin Kids’ Club, become incredible resources. Parents can have their children in the Club while they attend meetings, try the spa or indulge in other mountain and village activities.” 

Pueblo Convention Center

Like CCC, this southern gem is undergoing an expansion slated for completion in 2019, and will include the addition of an 18,000-squarefoot exhibit hall, bringing the center’s total space to over 46,000 square feet. Based on plans for the new space, the Professional Bull Riders Association is moving into the opposite end of the center and a new Pro Bull Rider’s Sport Performance Center is underway.

“We will be able to incorporate much more activity into conference events seamlessly,” explains Katera Buckland, director of sales and marketing for the Pueblo Convention Center and Memorial Hall. “And, with the addition of a 500-space parking garage that will be connected via a sky bridge to the center that also links to the downtown Riverwalk, we are going to expand our options exponentially in our booming downtown setting.” 

She shares, “The Pueblo Home of Heroes Association found out what a versatile venue the Pueblo Convention Center was last September as they planned a convention for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society with a theme of the Old West. Saddles were brought in from a local museum to line the hallway, and each saddle was of a different variety from the 1800s to the early 1900s when Pueblo was the saddle-making capitol of the West.”

The Bernstein meeting area located between the main convention center and the attached Courtyard by Marriott Hotel was transformed into an Old West saloon thanks to local stage hands from a community theatre group that created windows, an awning, swinging doors and a sign naming it the Long Horn Social Club. 

Telluride Conference Center

As one of the most breathtaking towns in North America, Telluride attracts meetings for one spectacular reason: the picturesque and intimate setting of the southwest Colorado town. Telluride Conference Center is located in the center of Mountain Village, a short gondola ride from town and with immediate access to mountain lodging. 

While a bit smaller in nature, the center is big on perks. There is a state-of-the-art video conferencing, audio-visual equipment and supervision, full catering services and a bevy of other draws that land the convention center repeat and international business. 

“We get a lot of smaller corporate incentive groups, continuing education organizations, and everything from realtors and doctors to public service groups. We really see a broad spectrum of groups interested in our unique spot. Add in the convenience of everything in walking distance and an easy-to-use gondola transportation system, meeting attendees can stay anywhere in town and access the conference,” explains Tom Watkinson, director of communications for Visit Telluride.

Two Rivers Convention Center

Located in downtown Grand Junction on Main Street, Two Rivers Convention Center has accessibility to restaurants, breweries, wineries, shopping and mild year-round weather. At the 2017 Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference, attendees were excited to walk Main Street, which is bookended by Two Rivers Convention Center and Avalon Theatre. 

“What made GovCon a raving success was the setting, historic downtown, as well as the use of our variety of venues to meet the needs of an impressive kickoff reception, nightlife, and meeting and dining space to accommodate the group’s breakout and general sessions,” notes Maria Rainsdon, general manager of both facilities.

“Two Rivers Convention Center was great to work alongside and the food was incredible— we included flavors from the Grand Valley such as peaches, apples and, of course, the wine. We even had a watermelon with a handcarved conference logo,” notes Deb Bannon, meeting and event planner for the Colorado Tourism Office and owner of Denver-based Altitude Events.

Rainsdon adds that they placed a raft and bikes in the Avalon Theatre’s auditorium and an ice luge featuring Palisade’s Goat brand vodka mixed with peach puree on the mezzanine. “The rooftop at the Avalon was a beautiful place for the new attendee reception; the views from that third floor lookout can’t be beat! Guests could not stop raving about the bone-in grilled pork chop topped with Palisade peach chutney served over maplepecan sweet potato mash and garlic sautéed green beans, which were served for lunch.”

The secret to success for Colorado’s standalone convention and conference centers is community. Allowing attendees to experience the local activities, attractions and people creates the connection needed for a truly outstanding event.