Brad Gessner is the General Manager of the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) and Senior Vice President of AEG Facilities. A 35-year veteran of the public assembly facility management industry, Brad is responsible for expanding the Convention Center Services and Management Division and the delivery of best practices in the areas of convention center management, guest services, sales, and operations.
As the General Manager of LACC, Brad oversees day-to-day activity at the facility, drives convention center revenue and business strategy, and bridges AEG Facilities with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.
Prior to joining AEG, Brad spent 14 years in senior management positions at the San Diego Convention Center while also serving as a faculty professor and visiting lecturer for San Diego State University's Hospitality and Tourism Management Department. As the SVP of AEG Facilities, Brad also oversees the Hawaii Convention Center and the Puerto Rico Convention Center.
Would you give us a brief history of the Los Angeles Convention Center?
The Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall was originally built in 1971, and in 1993, the city expanded the building and built the South Hall. In 2013, the facility was partially privatized in partnership with AEG.
AEG is one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment organizations and is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company. They are also the owners of L.A. Live and the Staples Center, as well as the adjacent JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
AEG came to Southern California in the mid-1990s and essentially transformed this formally rundown neighborhood of Los Angeles, which included the city’s convention center, into an entertainment, sports, and cultural district. Then in 2013, they made a successful bid to take over management of the convention center from the city.
What is unique about the center in terms of space and services?
Between the West and South Halls, the center has 720,000 square feet of exhibit space that can be divide into serval different configurations. In addition, there are two smaller spaces – the Petree Hall and the Concourse Hall - that provide an additional 20,000 square feet of space.
We also have about 35,000 square feet of meeting room space that can be configured specifically to meet the needs of an event. So, the facility is one of the largest in the area and can handle events like E3, the Anime Expo or the L. A. Auto Show that require a lot of space.
When an event signs up with us, we, in essence, become an extension of their staff. Whether they need help organizing the floor space; interfacing with our food and beverage services; managing the loading dock; or setting up communications, our full-service event manager is there to provide whatever assistance is required.
The food and beverage services we offer are equivalent to what you would expect from a top-quality hotel or restaurant. Because we are in the heart of the city, our facility has an enhanced security system with cameras covering every inch of the property that are monitored by officers every hour of the day.
Other than food and beverage services, what other services do you provide?
Rather than working with one of the, large international firms, we decided to use a local firm based in Pasadena, California to provide much of our outsourcing service needs. They provide everything from coat and bag checking, to manning the business service center. Our telecommunications and WiFi services are managed by a Smart City. The company specializes in convention center services and provides excellent service.
We also have an approved vendor program for event organizers that prefer to use outside contractors for specialized utilities like sinks and plumbing that would be required for beauty, food, or restaurant shows. We can offer many of these same services using our staff as an option. For example, our in-house audio-visual production company called Encore can provide anything from simple audio/video equipment to full-blown stage productions.
What is the parking situation like at the center?
The Los Angeles Convention Center manages three parking garages that can accommodate 5,600 vehicles. There are also many privately-owned parking facilities located nearby. To meet the needs of the growing number of electric vehicles, we recently installed seven electric car chargers in our parking garages.Because we support the transition movement away from carbon based fuels, we provide that as a free service.
Does the center have an active sustainability or recycling program?
Actually, we are one of the leaders in that area. Just a year ago, we were certified LEED EB at the gold level by the US Green Building Council. Among our accomplishments is a 36 percent reduction in the use of energy. We are currently working with the City of Los Angeles to install a 2-MW solar array on the south roof that is expected to generate about 12 percent of our electricity needs and save us over $400,000 a year.
Last year, we completely reroofed the south roof of the building with reflective material that greatly reduced the load on the building’s air-conditioning system. Another efficiency improvement we made was to retrofit the old metal halide lighting in the exhibit halls with modern LED units. We also installed an energy management system that helps reduce energy consumption by dynamically controlling the lighting and HVAC.
With regard to water use, in Southern California water is always an important issue. By retrofitting our restrooms, installing more drought-tolerant landscaping, and a drip irrigation system, we have been able to reduce water consumption by almost 20 percent.
We are also very proud of our waste management system, which is recycling 75 percent of the material generated at the center. Our goal is to reach 80 percent by 2020. All of the material left over from our various construction projects, like wood pallets, scrap metal, and old carpet, are also recycled.
What is the source of your capital budget?
We have undertaken many millions of dollars’ worth of capital improvements in the past five years. When AEG took over management of the center, it was running an operational deficit of about $3.5 million a year. With the program efficiencies we have introduced, plus the additional revenue we have generated through our marketing efforts, we booked a $10.2 million operating surplus last year.
The city has allowed us to put most of that surplus back into the facility including for capital projects like: replacing old HVAC system, replacing carpets, adding security cameras, and building new parking systems. We still have a $7,200,000 reserve that will be used to maintain the building and keep the center up-to-date.
Are there any specific categories of events that are attracted to the center?
Conventions and trade shows related to the medical and technology industries have been historically attracted to the center because of its location and facilities. We host medical events like the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, the American Academy of Neurology, and the American College of Chest Physicians. In technology, we host shows like E3 and Adobe MAX.
Because Los Angeles is such a large metropolitan area with easy access from anywhere in the world, the center is well-situated for attracting local, national, and international attendees. LAX is a major international airport matched by a few in the world and ideally located for travelers from the Pacific Rim.
Southern California is also known for its year-round perfect weather. Event planners can rest assured that no matter what time of the year you come here, they are going to have a great weather.
The area also has an abundant supply of hotel rooms. A new Intercontinental Hotel with 800 rooms just opened up a few blocks away. AEG has two adjacent hotels – the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – that opened in 2010.Of course, Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. Just next door is one of the busiest arenas in the country with two NBA teams, a professional hockey team, and a variety of cultural events to choose from. We are home to the Grammys and the Emmys, and we are just a short drive to Hollywood. There are 22 restaurants, the Microsoft Theater, and the Staples Arena right in the area.
What do you see happening to the center over the next five years?
There is a lot of well-managed, beautiful convention centers throughout the United States that we compete with, so we have to continue to make improvements to remain competitive. We are currently working with the city on plans to expand and modernize the center.
The West Hall was built in 1971, and although we have made a number of improvements over the last four years, there is still a lot that needs to be done.
Right now, the South and West Halls are dissected by Pico Boulevard. We want to work with the city and AEG to bridge the street and connect the two halls into a contiguous space. That would add an additional 200,000 square feet of exhibit space for a total of 1,000,000 million square feet. In addition, we would add another 30,000 of meeting-room space and a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art ballrooms.
The city has been working on the plan in conjunction with LATCB, which is the city’s destination marketing arm, and they are both pushing for approval.
How far along is the plan?
Two years ago, the city selected three architectural firms to submit competitive designs. One of the architects was selected, but the project was put on hold due to the cost estimate of $400 million to $500 million. Now, the city is in discussion with AEG, to see if there might be an opportunity for a public-private partnership.
AEG would work with the city in return for some longer-term control of the center and maybe even some development rights on the property. The idea is still currently under discussions, but whether a partnership deal is reached, or the city moves ahead on its own, some decision should be made in the next 12 months.