The Long Beach Arena has a rich and storied history. Since opening its doors in 1962, it has played host to everything from prestigious sporting events, such as the 1984 Olympic Volleyball Championships to the recording of live albums from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Rick James. In 1985, while recording their famed Live After Death album, Iron Maiden’s persistent rallying of the crowd, “Scream for me, Long Beach!” ended up becoming an iconic phrase for metalheads the world over. But, like most things that were huge in the 1980s, the facilities began to feel dated as the years went on. Finally, in 2013 the Long Beach Arena began a $10 million dollar makeover.
“During the [10 years prior], there had been a large increase in available exhibit space while convention attendance stayed flat,” said Bob Maguglin, Long Beach CVB director of public relations. “With so many destinations vying for the same conventions, Long Beach needed to break the mold and identify itself as an innovative leader in creating a new essence of meeting/event style. Also, our center’s largest ballroom was [at that time] 25,000 square feet, too small for some of the groups we were trying to bring to Long Beach.”
The need for a revamp wasn’t unusual—after more than a half-century in which the arena was essentially untouched, updating was critical—but the innovative design approach came from a unique source.
“The TED conference, which was held in Long Beach for five years, is a leader in creating an environment that encourages ‘collaboration, connection, and community’ (in the words of TED founder, Richard Saul Wurman) by providing appealing and comfortable spaces that invite people to gather and linger,” Maguglin said. “When the TED conference needed more space, they turned to the 45,000-square-foot floor space of the Long Beach Arena. We saw how the TED planners utilized our 60-year-old arena, using pipe and drapes, interior design elements, lighting, and sound to create a stunning meeting space. We decided to build a permanent installation that would allow meeting planners to use their imaginations to fully customize the space.”
The TED umbrella is known for its revolutionary approach to problem solving, and the accompanying viral video phenomenon (which recently reached its billionth unique viewer) has long been a barometer for public passion. It made sense, then, for the Long Beach Arena to move forward with TED’s approach in mind.
The Long Beach Arena is one of several venues following a new method for utilizing space. Buildings are typically built for a specific purpose and are constructed with that singular goal in mind. This becomes problematic due to the nature of convention centers, where the ability to host a wide range and scale of events over a short period of time (or sometimes even hosting multiple, vastly different events at the exact same time) is imperative. When every client requires customization, how can a building adapt or evolve to suit those changes, not to mention future needs? The Long Beach Arena renovation was more innovative than simply spending a large amount of money on a large amount of construction.
The crown jewel of the revitalized Long Beach Arena is the Pacific Room, a $7 million ballroom. Designed by architect John Fisher, an inventive truss system serves as moveable walls and a roof.
“The Pacific Room (opened November 2013), is one of the country’s premier special-event venues, revolutionizing the platform design for event spaces,” Maguglin said. “The venue is formed by using the floor space of the arena and lowering electronically operated curtains from the ceiling, concealing the upper deck seating areas. Over the ballroom, a suspended steel tension grid supports state-of-the-art LED and stage lighting, sound systems, and decorative elements. The grid can be raised and lowered to accommodate event requirements. This provides an intimate environment for meetings, dinners, or concerts for up to 3,000 people. With the curtains and grid raised, the arena can still seat up to its capacity of 13,000 seats.”
The Pacific Room is truly a feat of engineering, fully customizable in shape, size, and atmosphere. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of bespoke lighting systems, mood-enhancing design elements, stylish furniture, and smart-sound capabilities round out the experience.
“The Pacific Room offers planners substantial cost savings with its all-inclusive, $1.6 million state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video system—all controlled, and easily changeable with the simple touch of an iPad,” Maguglin said. “The moveable curtains that form the walls of the room can be illuminated in thousands of color combinations and used as projection surfaces for logos, photographs, or videos.”
It comes as no surprise that Long Beach Arena has seen a drastic increase in the volume and breadth of its bookings, including more rehearsals, filming, and corporate functions.
“The Pacific Room has allowed us to pursue groups that could not have used Long Beach due to lack of special event space,” Magulin said. “Within the first year of operation, the Pacific Room was responsible for booking 22 definite groups for an economic impact of $61.2 million. Another 29 tentative groups are pending. These are groups who considered Long Beach because of the Pacific Room. A very good return on investment for our $10 million in construction costs.”
The plan of the space is not only advantageous from a personalization perspective, but the integrated approach to lighting and sound—while a large design investment upfront—means drastic changes can now be accomplished at no additional cost to clients.
“Thanks to the cost savings allowed by the light and sound system, we even see many of our local community and charitable groups taking advantage of the Pacific Room for their events,” Maguglin said.
As with any massive change, the use of the new tension system came with a learning curve, as well as bit of a shock for clients used to the original arena.
“Initially, when returning events (e.g., concerts, trade shows, etc.) came back to the venue, certain obstacles needed to be worked out,” Maguglin said. “Now the rigging and other production related events need to work through and around the tension grid. However, we have since overcome such obstacles and are providing a smooth transition.”
The system has now been in use for just over 16 months, and back-of-house operations (e.g., moving the grid to certain heights, adjusting lighting) continue to become more streamlined and client friendly every day. The renovation effort continues to pay off, not only by enhancing clients’ events, but in promoting the Long Beach community as a whole, putting the arena back on the map for the first time since the 1980s heyday. FM