How Two Convention Centers Shined on The Biggest Night in Politics

It’s an event that happens once every four years—the race for the White House. With more than 66 million Americans and millions more around the world tuning in, it’s one of the most watched events in the world. And this year two venues, Chicago’s McCormick Place and the Boston Convention Center, held the attention of a nation.

McCormick Place hosted U.S. President Barack Obama on the evening of November 6, while the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center made itself available to former Governor Mitt Romney. Though both men did not claim victory, it’s clear that both venues did. Here, EXPO checks in with each facility to find out how they handled the biggest night in politics.

McCormick Place

It was around two weeks ago that President Obama’s reelection team, Obama for America (OFA), contacted McCormick Place—the nation’s largest facility—regarding an election night rally, win or lose.

Though the first time the president was elected his campaign night rally was in Chicago’s Grant Park, the outdoor venue presented challenges four years later in 2012, which is why OFA looked toward McCormick Place.

“A facility’s security concerns are always different when dealing with a president, and with him being a sitting president, security issues were a lot more important this time around,” says McCormick Place general manager David Causton. He adds that OFA “wanted a facility that could attract a large crowd, but at the same time do it in an environment that was safe from a security point of view to have a sitting president enter, speak and leave in an efficient way.”

Causton credits his team for effectively turning around an event that needed not only to be executed in a quick manner but with great precision. He adds that since the NATO Summit was held this summer at the facility, Secret Service and other personnel were already familiar with the venue, providing one less hurdle for a successful rally at McCormick’s Lakeside Center. Causton says about 15,000 people were in attendance to see the president’s acceptance speech.

The security procedures the facility undertook focused on tested practices for moving individuals and vehicles in and out of the venue. McCormick Place was able to present the front door of the convention center as the avenue for individuals to enter.

“The size of McCormick Place actually worked to our advantage for an event as big as this,” says Causton. “Everyone that entered the room where the president spoke had to go through security and we made sure they were going into a safe environment. We were actually able to stage all of that equipment and material with Secret Service personnel in the Grand Concourse of McCormick Place so that before people actually crossed the bridge over Lakeshore Drive they had already gone through all the security screening necessary to enter the event.”

Causton says that customers already in the building were understanding—in the midst of the rally, staffers were setting up for the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting, and McCormick Place was also executing sales meetings and tours with Anheuser Busch on the day of the set up process. Juggling these multiple aspects on November 6, says Causton, has ultimately paid off.

“We were about as booked as we could be and we were still able to accommodate the president and the election night event. It shows that our facility can handle major events, the largest of special events in addition to large conventions and tradeshows,” he says. “Quite frankly, to pull something this large off in under three weeks demonstrates that the facility has the infrastructure to do these kinds of events. More importantly it shows that we have the staff and ability to pull this off.”

Boston Convention Center

Like the candidate they were hosting, those running the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center were optimistic about what election night would bring.

They fared a little better than Mitt Romney, though.

“From a media and worldwide perspective, this event is unprecedented for us,” said Mac Daniel, director of communications for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, on Tuesday morning as his venue prepared to host 1,200 media members, 8,000 supporters and the Republican presidential candidate. “The scary thing is that two bizzilion [sic] people in the world will be watching the signal from our pipe. That’s our signal coming out of our building. It’s really important that it be flawless.”

Touted by executive director Jim Rooney as “the most technologically-advanced convention center in the world,” Daniel was confident that the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center would be able to handle the heavy data demand—bringing  the opportunity to market themselves to a worldwide audience.

More than 800 phone jacks, 100 cable television hookups, 50 satellite news trucks and “thousands of feet” of wire were brought to the Center for the event.

More immediately, though, the event had a direct effect on the city.

Large chunks of heavily trafficked roads surrounding the facility were shut down during rush hour—“When the Secret Service is involved, you just do what they say,” quips Daniel—and with hotels and restaurants filled to near-capacity, officials estimated that overall economic impact for the area could reach $20 million.

“To be able to host this event, and host it well, means that our reputation will hopefully drift on and we’ll be seen as a very capable facility with highly-skilled people that can do major, major events,” he says. “It’s just McCormick Place and us on the map tonight.”

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