The `Governator' Has Arrived On This (Imaginary) Day, And Everything
Falls Into Place Just As Planned, With The Help Of Integrated Fiber
Optics, Uplinks, Downlinks, And A Nice Grand Piano
May 29, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer
The dark limousine sweeps up the back ramp to the Connecticut Convention
Center, moves right into the building, and then pulls, incongruously,
inside a giant hydraulic freight elevator.
Somebody pushes a button to lift
the car carrying the governor of the state of California to the
third floor. Once there, the limo pulls slowly into the hallway,
finally depositing Arnold Schwarzenegger a foot outside the "green room," where
he is to prepare for his speech to 7,000 heart surgeons.
"Ahhll be baahck," the
movie-star governor growls at his aides cluster outside. He disappears
inside with his laptop to connect to the convention center's computer
network, which can move data from the Internet about 5,000 times
faster than a dial-up connection.
The "Governator's" visit
and the surgeons' meeting are imaginary, but the technological
capabilities of Hartford's new $271 million convention center are
very real. This tale of a hypothetical event illustrates how large
conventions will use the center's massive, yet intricate, infrastructure:
Inside the convention center's 40,000-square-foot ballroom - a room
about two-thirds the size of a football field - workers are rearranging
some of the inventory of more than 7,000 chairs, 1,200 tables, five
complete sets of U.S. and state flags, and one grand piano to prepare
for Schwarzenegger's keynote speech. It is to be the climax of a
convention whose planning began literally years before.
Downstairs in the 140,000-square-foot exhibition hall, several hundred
medical technology and pharmaceutical companies are exhibiting their
wares to the heart surgeons.
While the size of the new convention
center is striking, its executives say what may be most arresting
about the new state-owned building is the advanced state of its
technology. Its features include an integrated fiber optic data,
voice and video network; a wireless "communications
bubble" that allows conventioneers to link laptops or portable
data devices to the Internet anywhere in the building; video screens
to display flights at Bradley International Airport; and an energy
system that will capture heat from morning showers taken in the adjacent
Marriott Hartford Downtown hotel to cool the convention center later
Some of the technology is so new
that it wasn't widely available to the public when design of the
convention center began, back in the last century. Architects,
technicians and engineers had to make allowances for things like
buildingwide wireless Internet and "webcasting" from
the show floor while the convention center was being designed and
"We're not aware of any [convention centers] that are open,
that have put in place what we have here," said Jeff Nyland,
director of multiservices with Total Communications Inc. in East
Hartford, the provider for communications systems at the convention
center. "There are a number that are trying to retrofit, but
once the brick and mortar goes up, it's hard to get back into the
The convention center is designed to host everything from dog shows
to rock concerts - even if many of those concerts will be part of
a members-only convention. Its design and construction allow 20 tractor-trailers
to park in its docks to disgorge cargo. The list of rules that govern
the building are as complex as its infrastructure. That code governs
everything from gratuities paid to employees to the amount of gas
that can be left in the tanks of cars displayed on the exhibition
The convention center will provide services such as security, catering
and ticket-taking. But in many cases, the truckers, florists, photographers
and others working a convention will work for private vendors.
"Our job is to lease the building, and then farm that out to
the local economy," said Ben Seidel, executive director of the
convention center for the Waterford Group, the company that will
manage the state-owned building.
Selling The Asset
For a big, citywide event such
as the hypothetical surgeons' convention and medical equipment
trade show keynoted by Schwarzenegger, the sales force for the
Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau
would try to lease the convention center and the city five years
or more before the actual event.
With an event license signed, actual planning for a large convention
or trade show begins up to four years in advance, said Scott Ling,
president of Demers Exposition Services. The Middletown company,
one of the general service contractors that will stage large events
at the convention center, expects to do about 20 events here this
year, including the first official event on Thursday, the Connecticut
XPO 2005 for Business.
Convention and exposition companies say the real planning crunch
comes 30 to 60 days before an event. Around that time, contractors
must settle the floor plans for booths - the exhibition hall can
accommodate up to 800 exhibitor booths - and must finalize plans
for electrical, mechanical, telecommunications and information technology
needs, and complete their catering and concessions plans.
The details are daunting, but Ling thinks the technology and design
will make the new convention center easier to use, not more complicated.
"A building is a building," he said. "We
are going to get into a groove."
Marshaling The Trucks
The tractor-trailers carrying the medical equipment for the trade
show began to arrive in Hartford several days before the delegates.
Like armies massing in a designated spot before an invasion, they
assemble at a remote location before converging on the convention
One of the most intricate and
complicated parts of staging a large convention or trade show is
what those in the business call "marshaling" -
the act of moving the exhibition booths, the banners, the miles of
carpeting into the convention hall, and then assembling it according
to plan. Because every minute of time in a rented convention center
is costly, the gear needs to be loaded into the hall as quickly as
possible, in a choreographed minuet of trucks, forklifts, pallet
jacks and dollies.
"It's a simple theory," Ling said. "It
just takes a lot of execution."
SER Exposition Services of Worcester expects to use between 40 and
100 workers to load-in its largest trade shows or other meetings
"Sometimes, if convention centers are busy, you will work through
the night to get the job done," said Matt DiSalvo, senior vice
president and general manager of SER.
Each booth is provided with heavy-duty
electrical and telephone connections, high-speed data connectivity,
water and drainage. If an exhibitor needs to get a more exotic
substance to a booth - compressed air to run machinery, for example,
or some rarer gas or liquid - the convention center can provide
that, too. A conduit called a "utilidor" runs
under the entire length to the exhibition hall floor, allowing the
building to pipe a wide variety of substances into each booth.
As the governor of California
begins his speech in the ballroom, the digital capabilities of
the new center become apparent. Behind his burly shoulders, a video
screen shows a picture of Schwarzenegger, with a separate window
on the screen showing highlights of his plan to reduce health care
costs. Another window shows voters in California watching the governor's
speech. Using "webcasting," those
voters will be able to pose real-time questions to the governor.
"Ahnd ahs you can see from my Pohwa Poihnt presentation" ...
, Schwarzegger rumbles in his Austrian accent. His image is piped
to screens throughout the convention center, to televisions in rooms
at the adjacent Marriott, and uplinked to a satellite for CNN and
Fox News to pick up.
In older convention centers, workers have to string separate webs
of coaxial cable to present video, data and voice images in one program.
In the Hartford convention center, that capability is built into
the building's fiber optic network.
The center is expected to host other new technology now being introduced
to the convention industry, Seidel said. One new system called Radio
Frequency Identification - RFID - imbeds a chip in each convention
delegate's name badge, which, wedded to wireless computing and Global
Positioning System (GPS) technology, allows exhibitors to track which
delegates go to which booths, and how much time they spend there.
Bringing In The Workers
The convention center is designed to host events attended by thousands
of people, and multiple events at the same time. Other times, it
will be dark for days at a time. Because of that ebb and flood pattern,
the center's workforce will need to expand and contract dramatically.
With a banquet for 2,000 guests on tap to honor Schwarzenegger later
that evening, part-time waiters, table busers and security staff
are filing into the convention center to begin preparations.
In an office behind the loading docks, they swipe an ID card and
a computer registers the gear they are to be issued - black waiters'
jackets, radios, beepers and anything else they need to do their
job that night.
Upstairs, the kitchen is powering up for the night as well.
It is well-equipped to deliver vast amounts of food to the plates
of several thousand diners. Its coffee makers, which have filter
barrels roughly the size of a propane tank, drip coffee in batches
of 6 gallons and produce iced tea in batches of 18 gallons. The kitchen's
two pre-programmable ovens can prepare 1,000 steaks in 10 minutes
to a perfect medium rare, or steam 720 pounds of asparagus in the
same amount of time. Of course, you don't make that many meals without
a few accidents - the convention center expects to break more than
2,600 pieces of china each year.
Still, the kitchen's hospitality horsepower and the building's technical
wizardry are back-of-the-house attributes that actual conventiongoers
will never see.
What most visitors will remember is the 125-foot atrium and the
striking views of downtown and the reach of the Connecticut River
from the building's upper levels, said H. Scott Phelps, president
of the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"In the tours I've taken through the building, that's the wow
factor," Phelps said. "I've seen people get that wide-eyed
look when they get the views of the river in either direction."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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