Michael Costelli is the General Manager for the Connecticut Convention Center, the Northeast's most ideal location for trade shows, conventions and business meetings.
The facility is owned by the State of Connecticut with operations overseen by the Capital Region Development Authority and is professionally managed by Waterford Venue Services, a subsidiary of Waterford Group, a leader in the hospitality and gaming industries. Costelli, who has been with Waterford since 1988, is a Certified Hotel Administrator and two-time recipient of Waterford’s General Manager of the Year award. Prior to the Convention Center, he served in a regional capacity, overseeing 13 properties throughout the Northeast.
A Connecticut native, Costelli studied Marketing and Advertising at Western Connecticut State University.
Would you give us a brief overview of the Connecticut Convention Center?
The convention center was first opened in June 2005. The facility is now controlled by a quasi-public agency known as the Capital Region Development Authority, or CRDA. The authority was created in 2012 to simulate investment and economic growth in Connecticut, with a specific focus on the Hartford region. CRDA is responsible for a number of assets in the greater Hartford area, including Rentschler Field, the Connecticut Convention Center and the XL Center.
The convention center was built as part of a redevelopment plan that included a full-service hotel and a second attraction. The property, which was known as Adrian's Landing, is owned by the state and is located in the center of Hartford right along Interstate 91 and overlooking the Connecticut River.
The Marriott hotel, which is next door, opened about the same time as the center and the second attraction turned out to be the Connecticut Science Center. The science center is a beautiful, contemporary building, dedicated to teaching children about the world of science.
Are members of the convention center staff CRDA employees?
Our 84 staff members are not CRDA employees, they work for Waterford Venue Services Hartford, which is a subsidiary of the Waterford Hotel Group. The Waterford Hotel Group is a property management and development company that has been in business since 1985. The company owns and manages a number of hotels, as well as managing properties on behalf of third parties.
The Waterford Hotel Group, which is based on Waterford, Connecticut, was hired by the governor of Connecticut to be the master developer for the Adrian's Landing district. The company also owns the attached Marriott Hotel and a 393-room Hilton Hotel, which is a couple blocks away.
What does the facility have to offer in terms of exhibit space?
The center has over half a million square feet of usable space with a two-level parking garage underneath. The main exhibit area is 140,000 square feet and can be divided into separate halls, one 80,000 and one 60,000-square feet. In addition, there is a 40,000-square foot ballroom and a total of 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.
The lower lobby of the building is at street level and connects directly to the entrance of the hotel. To service the exhibit area, we have a 20-bay loading dock at the hall level, which makes it convenient for the exhibitors to setup their booths. In front of the exhibit hall, there is a 20,000-square foot pre-function space that can be used as a reception area or additional exhibit space. The pre-function area is connected to the hotel’s banquet and meeting room floor next door by an adjoining patio. That allows the hotel and the convention center to use each other’s facilities as over-flow space.
The ballroom and an additional pre-function space is located on the sixth floor with the meeting room area. Its extensive windows provide a panoramic view of the city and the river. On the fifth floor, the administrative level, there are two executive board rooms – one on either side of the building. The rooms have floor-to-ceiling glass windows that looks out onto the exhibit hall.
Do you offer catering and other services, or are those functions outsourced?
We have our own full-time staff and do not allow events to use third parties. In addition to full-time housekeeping, engineering, and maintenance departments, we have our own security team, culinary staff, and banquet service staff. Our catering staff is well-known throughout the community for providing top quality food and service, and we make every effort to maintain that reputation.
Our full-time staff is unionized. They all belong to the Laborers International Union, an organization with which we have a very good relationship. We have not had one grievance from the union in ten years. If needed, we can draw on a very large labor pool of well-qualified, on-call workers to supplement our staff. The temporary staff associates number between 200 and 250 people and we utilize about half of them on a regular basis.
Has the building undergone any restorations since it opened?
Most of building, with the exception of the lower lobby, is carpeted; so, it was necessary to replace the carpet about a year and half ago. At the same time, we replaced all of the public space furniture, upgraded the signage, and freshened up some of the paint. Right now, the building looks as good as it did the day we opened.
Do you have a program to address energy efficiency and sustainability?
The building was designed with a self-contained, central utility plant which provides steam and chilled water for the convention center, hotel, and science center. At the time, it was determined to be the most cost-effective way to supply our needs. Since that time, we have had the local public utility company undertake an energy audit and make recommendations for improving our energy efficiency.
As a result, we have retrofitted our lighting with LED units and tweaked our energy management system to make the heating and cooling systems more efficient. About 95 percent of our lighting has been converted to LED and we are working on the rest. In addition, about 80 percent of the outside and street lighting along Columbus Boulevard and throughout the Adrian’s Landing District area have been converted to LED. It is a big deal and represents a huge cost and energy savings.
We are also working with the state to implement our waste disposal and recycling protocols. Kitchen wastes that can be turned into energy are separated and sent to be reprocessed, while the other waste is separated and sent out for proper recycling. We also work with our clients to make sure the dinnerware and packaging used at their concessions are recyclable.
What are some key services that you provide event organizers?
Many of our services are provided by our general services contractor who manages our business center and provides audio-visual and decorating services. In terms of connectivity, we do have our own IT staff person responsible maintaining our internet infrastructure and keeping the system up-to-date.
We made a substantial capital investment several years ago to enhance our IT infrastructure, sound systems, and general technology, to stay in tune with today's environment. Of course, technology changes rapidly and we expect to make additional improvements in the future to meet the needs of our clients.
Our event management team is very experienced in terms of catering and our in-house managers are experts in that field. Our chef has been with our company 12 years and our director of operations had been our chef when we first opened. So, our entire team is committed to making sure our food service is of the highest quality.
How are you utilizing your digital signage?
In the last two years, we have added digital signage throughout the building that gives our clients an efficient way to provide the latest scheduling information and to market various programs during their events. It also provides us an opportunity to display information about the center and the services we offer. The signage consists of flat television screen located at strategic point throughout the center.
When you walk into our lower lobby, there is a wall that we call a Video Wall, which can display a message from a built-in projector producing an image that is 40 feet long and 30 feet high. Depending on the client’s needs, we can use it to display a welcoming message, scheduling information, or even a video.
What about local transportation?
Another huge advantage that visitors have is the Bradley Flyer. It is a public bus that runs between here and Bradley Airport which is 30 minutes away. We are also serviced by the Dash Shuttle that runs every 15 minutes and makes scheduled stops downtown. That is convenient for attendees staying at different hotels or enjoying some of our local restaurants.
What type of events are attracted to the convention center and why?
Our location is key. Located about halfway between New York and Boston, there are 23 million people within an easy commute of Hartford. If you are coming by car, the convention center is located near the intersection of two Interstate Highways – I-91 running north and south and I-84 running east and west. We are 15 miles from Bradley International Airport and Amtrak runs right through Hartford. As a result, events that have used our facility experience higher attendance than at other venues.
Because our building is so flexible, we can host the full range of specialized trade shows, conventions, public events, and private meetings. Every year we host the Hartford Boat Show which is a large public event requiring lots of exhibit space. Our well-known food and beverage service attracts a lot of local, large, high-end banquets and fundraisers. ConnectiCon is another large event that requires the entire building. It brings in about 10,000 people a day,
Event planners also like the ease at which events can be staged. Two of the loading bays allow trucks or even buses to drive right onto the exhibit floor. In addition, in the loading dock area there is a large freight elevator with a 12,000-pound capacity that can be used to take displays up to the ballrooms. We actually had an auto show that displayed their luxury cars in the ballroom on the sixth floor. The configuration and capacity of the loading dock area make for quick and easy move-ins and move-outs.
Do you foresee a need for expansion in the next few years?
The building was designed with the potential for future expansion and there is room to add a second tower to the hotel. At the present time, the space we have for the convention center and hotel seems adequate to meet the anticipate demand. But if the need arises in the future, an expansion of the facilities would be possible.