New Arena Lobby Creates More Competition For Big Box Hotels

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On its first night in use, the arena’s repurposed lobby lights up for TED. Photos by Sarah Bennett

Last week, TEDsters became the first group to experience a series of sophisticated upgrades brought to the Long Beach Arena’s lobby and dining area–renovations that create an intimate, hotel vibe while connecting the exhibition halls with the remainder of the convention center complex.

Without altering the structure itself, the Long Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in a short 90 days transformed the arena’s lobby and its once-tchotchke restaurant into a versatile event space that–when coupled with the still-in-progress arena repurposing–will attract even more business to the already state-of-the-art center. Waveform lighting trusses were installed on the three-story high ceilings and mid-century-inspired furniture and floor lamps were placed in moveable seating pod arrangements to make a pre-function area unseen in most modern arenas. 

arenalobby1“From the sales perspective, we’ve always had not enough of a ballroom,” explained Long Beach CVB’s Senior Vice President of Sales Iris Himert. “Now, [with the arena upgrades] we have floor capacity 46,000 square feet, and can fit 3,300 people there. To have this outer area for cocktail recepton and to get the mood going before events is just the icing on the cake. We anticipate being able to put a lot more business into not just the building, but into the city because of this.”

The pride of the lobby’s upgrade, however, is Bogart and Co.–a 350-capacity restaurant, bar and customizeable event space that replaces the dingy pirate-themed Captain Morgan’s restaurant that once served up grab-and-go food in a rope-and-barrels setting that felt more amusement park meets frat house than contemporary eatery.

With the final countertops laid just five days before TED moved in for its week of influential talks, Bogart and Co. now more resembles the sleek new Long Beach Airport concourse, complete with large windows to let in light, white stone bricks, turquoise leather-studded chairs and draped partitions to separate the 6500 square-foot space for smaller private parties.

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The restaurant can offer both catering and traditional table service (depending on the client’s needs) and is also equipped with seven 60″ flat screen TVs, which in the bar area are connected to a high-quality sound system. A planter-defined European-style patio even hugs Bogart’s exterior, so diners can eat in a faux al fresco environment. 

“This is very unique in terms of being at a convention center,” said Allison Lesser, the CVB’s Vice President of Sales. “We compete a lot with convention hotels or big box hotels where under one roof you can eat, sleep, go to bars and attend your convention. Here, we have transformed the Center to be more of a hotel experience where you have all the things you need under one roof. You just have open air hallways to get to where you sleep. Vendors love it because people don’t leave to eat and network—they stay here and go right back to the show floor.”

arenalobby5Until recently, most of the convention center and arena was hampered by a gymnasium appearance that made it feel ominous and cold, leading smaller groups to take their business to so-called “big box” hotels in other SoCal cities like Anaheim and San Diego. But the recent upgrades brought to Bogarts as well as the arena lobby are all part of the CVB’s efforts to utilize space more effectively as a way to entice those groups back and, in the process, maintain Long Beach’s competitiveness as a mid-sized convention center city.

“We’ve turned this whole side into a turn-key special event space. Whatever you want to do, you don’t have to leave the facility,” said Lesser. “It’s a campus so you can have your meeting and trade show, you can flow out into your reception, you can have your big keynote party and it’s all under one roof. All these built-ins that you would typically pay a lot of money for are now all included here.”

Bogart and Co. is located inside of the Long Beach Arena lobby and will be open during conferences, conventions and trade shows that use the space. 

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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