With statewide restrictions on public gatherings and large events starting to loosen, the Long Beach Convention Center could start holding events as soon as August, according to an email sent to stakeholders last week.
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in the email that the rollback means conventions of up to 5,000 people would be allowed in Long Beach, with mask wearing being the only COVID-19 restriction in place.
The conventions, which include at least three already planned in August, leave little room for error with a federal holding facility for unaccompanied migrant children expected to open at the Convention Center this week. The building has also served as the city’s largest vaccination site for months.
When the City Council voted this month to approve lease negotiations with the federal government for the migrant holding facility, Mayor Robert Garcia said that the “hard ending date” would be Aug. 2.
“Everyone knows this is an Aug. 1 stop date. Hard date,” Goodling said in an interview Monday. “We feel very confident that the federal government will honor the contract they agreed to.”
The first convention, for the National Business Media, is scheduled for Aug. 8.
Goodling said convention centers across the state had been advocating for guidelines since June, and until two weeks ago they were still unclear as to how or when they’d be able to operate again.
Now that they have clear guidelines to operate, including no mandates for social distancing, the Convention Center can not only start to begin booking again, but it can avoid losing conventions that were already booked for Long beach, Goodling said.
“It’s not that we’re able to book more; we’re able to preserve,” Goodling said, noting that conventions had been ending contracts with Long Beach over the uncertainty. “And that’s why we were asking for guidelines and guidance because we wanted to be able to save business five-six months out.”
The facility has a few events scheduled for September as well, such as the rescheduled Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach that was pushed from its original April date to the weekend of Sept. 24. Organizers of the race said they expect full fan participation at the race.
Conventions larger than 5,000 could be allowed at the Convention Center if organizers require proof of full vaccination or a negative test, but those with less than 5,000 attendees would only require masking and no social distancing, according to the state’s guidelines.
However, international attendees would have to prove that they’ve been fully vaccinated.
It’s unlikely that the local scheduled events will hit 5,000 attendees, Goodling said. The ones scheduled are smaller in nature and a pivot made by the Convention Center last year to provide hybrid-conventions with virtual attendance has allowed for the facility to broaden its reach, he said.
Optimism for the return of conventions was buoyed by an announcement earlier the month from the California Department of Public Health announcing that in June the state would fully reopen the economy with some restrictions like masking still in place.
But by October that could change. The state’s announcement only put restrictions in place through Oct. 1, and Goodling said after that masking and capacity limits would be gone.
“In short, come late summer Long Beach is excited to welcome you and your attendees with masks—and come fall, we’ll be totally back to normal,” Goodling said in the email.
Much of the state is currently in the orange tier, the second least restrictive of the state’s blueprint for reopening. However, the colored-tier system is expected to be largely abandoned in June.
The state’s plan to fully reopen the economy hinges on two factors: vaccine supply for those who want to be vaccinated and hospitalization rates.
As of Sunday the state had administered nearly 26 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with nearly one-third of California residents being fully vaccinated, according to the state’s website.
In Los Angeles County there have been nearly 6.5 million doses administered and the county is averaging just under four new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Just over 50% of Long Beach residents over 16 have been vaccinated, according to city data.
Statewide ICU availability is at about 32%, with the Southern California region having about 33% availability.
The return of large events, and people from out of town attending them, will likely boost businesses at Downtown restaurants neighboring the Convention Center as well as area hotels that have been hampered by travel restrictions and a lack of large events to draw people to the city.
“It’s huge for our restaurants and hotels and just leisure activities in general,” said Christine Bos, government affairs manager for the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’re eager and happy to collaborate with the city, CVB, and other business groups to figure out how to go about doing this safely to make sure it brings success the first time around and make sure people want to come back to Long Beach.”
For years the transient occupancy tax, which is charged to hotel guests, and more recently to short-term rental stays, has been one of the city’s top revenue sources bringing in over $20 million per year. However, the pandemic shutdowns shrank those revenues to just over $15.5 million last year.
The Convention Center is a major driver of business for Long Beach. When it was first forced to close and major events were cancelled last March, tens of thousands of hotel nights were cancelled resulting in an estimated loss of about $50 million for the city and local businesses in just a two month span last year.