ANAHEIM, Calif. — For most of the past year, the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) has been used as a COVID patient facility, for both testing and mass vaccinations. However, in addition to continuing as a vaccination site, signs of trade show life have just appeared in one section of the facility, recognized as the largest exhibition facility on the West Coast. Over the weekend, Starpower Talent hosted a youth dance competition, its first non-medical, non-COVID–related event since the pandemic shuttered the events industry in March 2020. And after a year of zero live events, ACC is scheduled to host more than a dozen events and conventions in the coming months.
Before the pandemic, the 1 million-square-foot convention center regularly hosted more than 200 events, conventions and conferences annually, making it one of the city’s economic drivers, bringing in leisure travelers and business professionals who stay at hotels, shop and visit the Anaheim area.
“Event organizers and attendees can feel confident about returning to the Anaheim Convention Center,” said Tom Morton, Executive Director of Convention, Sports and Entertainment for the city of Anaheim. “We have taken extensive steps to prepare for the return of events, with Starpower as the first of many to come. At the same time, we have been proud to play a leading role in bringing down (the number of COVID) cases by hosting Orange County’s largest vaccination site.”
In an effort to ease attendee comfort and concerns, the ACC took extensive steps, including ballroom seating spaced 6 feet apart, room capacity capped at 25%, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, providing personal protection equipment (PPE), mandatory face coverings on employees and guests, and physical distancing.
And how did attendees react to these health and safety protocols?
“They are following the new guidelines and protocols. Even though this is a smaller event, it’s great to see some activity and people coming into Anaheim,” said Jay Burress, President & CEO of Visit Anaheim, and OCSC President.
“When California released reopening guidelines for outdoor and indoor youth and recreational adult sports, Orange County Sports Commission (OSCS) remained steadfast in its efforts to continue to attract and book business,” said Burress. “We always knew sports and amateur sports would be the first market to come back because of the guidelines from the state, as well as the resiliency in the market, and just really the pent-up demand of parents and their kids wanting to get out into these competitions. So, we’ll see more of that coming up throughout the summer months.
“We are also experimenting with new ways to use outdoor spaces, including two large plazas, decks and balconies. We may also incorporate other sites for some bookings, such as the nearby Anaheim GardenWalk, Honda Center and Angel Stadium.”
Starpower: The First of Many
For Anaheim, the Starpower competition is the first of many upcoming events that includes several OCSC dance and volleyball events. “This is a milestone moment; it signals the start of the recovery. I view it as the start of the comeback, because it is,” said Burress. “We have to start somewhere and it’s a small group, but this will keep some people employed, it will bring business in the city, and it just sends a signal to the event organizers everywhere that California is back open for business in the meetings and events world.”