SMG officials believe they can resolve the challenges at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and generate the kind of revenue city and state officials thought they would get when they completed a $787 million expansion of the venue two years ago.
SMG was hired Wednesday to take over operations at the Philadelphia venue.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board first voted 12-3 to take management of the venue out of the hands of public officials and hire a private firm to run it. The board then voted 13-2 to give the contract to SMG, which is based in nearby suburban Philadelphia. Global Spectrum was also being considered for the contract.
In recent months, local political leaders have been skeptical about the level of future bookings at the venue, while exhibitors at tradeshows held there have complained about labor issues.
Greg Caren, senior vice president of SMG, says his company can resolve both dilemmas.
“It relates to sales, to customer service and to the collective bargaining agreement,” Caren says. “We’ve got a very professional relationship with labor in many, many buildings around the country and we will come at this with a very positive method.”
Once some of the issues with labor are resolved, Caren says, customer service will improve and future bookings for space at the center will follow.
The Philadelphia center is the third big-city venue SMG has taken over in the last three years, having also landed McCormick Place in Chicago and Cobo Center in Detroit as more municipalities look to third parties to manage their convention centers.
“To say it’s a trend would be accurate, if not an understatement,” Caren says.
He notes that in the last two and a half years, SMG has responded to nine requests for proposals from cities around the United States.
“The economic pressure municipalities are feeling drives the need to look for solutions,” Caren says. “Cities are moving to professional management because it has financial benefits, customer service benefits and even employee benefits,” noting that new staffers can now look to SMG’s wide network of venues for best practices and guidance.
Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Jack Ferguson says, “SMG will bring business resources that can support a positive customer experience. Together, it will allow us to tap into new business for Philadelphia and bring back others who had not planned to return.”