Jeff Johnson is an Assistant City Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis and is the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Minneapolis Convention Center is a 1.6 million square foot facility that hosts over 350 events and 1 million guests each year. Visitors and residents alike use the convention center as the gateway to exploring the City of Minneapolis. The work of the convention center produces significant economic impact of $400 million to the region and helps support over 7,000 jobs each year.
The idea of place is important to Jeff and there has been significant work done in recent years to make the convention center feel like a more integrated representation of Minneapolis and its people. Significant renovations have occurred and are underway to add amenities that add to relationship building within and around the facility. Included in these renovations are unique ways of introducing all forms of art into the spaces of such a large public place. In addition to the convention center, Jeff oversees the management of the Target Center arena and the convention and visitors bureau, Meet Minneapolis, for the City of Minneapolis. Jeff joined the Minneapolis Convention Center in 2004 and has steadily increased his responsibilities from the Guest Services Manager, to the Director of Event Services, and finally to the Executive Director.
Prior to working for the City of Minneapolis, Jeff worked at the Xcel Energy Center/Rivercentre in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Bi-Lo Center (now Bon Secours Wellness Arena) in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Wake Forest University Athletic Department in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Jeff attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota graduating with a degree in Business Administration and the University of Minnesota-Mankato graduating with a Master’s degree in Sport Administration. Jeff is married with three young children and is originally from Lakeville, Minnesota.
Would you give us a brief overview of the Minneapolis Convention Center?
The Minneapolis Convention Center is located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis where it has been since 1989. The original building, which had three exhibit halls and a ballroom, was built in three phases between 1989 and 1991. Then in 2001, two additional exhibit halls and an auditorium were added.
The trade show business has been growing continuously over the past two decades and Minneapolis has developed into a destination city for the convention industry. Even today, there is a great deal of investment taking place in the city’s hospitality industry to support the demand. The convention center is perfectly situated in the center of town close to all the amenities that Minneapolis has to offer.
What facilities does the convention center offer event planners?
The convention center has five exhibit halls, four of which are contiguous, totaling just under 500,000 square feet of exhibit space. The entire building, including the auditorium, ballroom, meeting rooms, and lobby, is 1.6 million square feet.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the center is our auditorium, a 3,400-seat lecture hall that is attached to the building. What is unique about the auditorium is that it has three separable, 400-seat lecture halls that are on turntables. The three sets of chairs can be either turned to face into the larger auditorium, or turned to face back into their own breakout rooms.
An event can have a general session for 3,400 people in the auditorium, take a 30-minute coffee break, spin those rooms around, and then have three small breakout sessions with the balance of the auditorium used for a larger breakout session. It provides planners a great deal of flexibility and has proved to be very popular.
We have recently added a bar and lounge area which is designed as a meeting place where attendees can build relationships. We give people a chance to get to know each other over local Minnesota craft beer. That has been very successful for us and it has helped in focusing attention on products that are unique to Minnesota and Minneapolis.
The connectivity availability is an important issue for event planners, and we have just completed a massive upgrade to our distributed antenna system. The cellular capacity and Wi-Fi capacity has been increased tenfold throughout the building. We now have enough bandwidth to make sure that everyone who attends an event will have sufficient connectivity.
During the last few years, we have also focused on video. There is a very large video screen right in the front entrance, which we use to welcome visitors and to promote Minneapolis. We have also installed 50x4 feet tall video screens in the front of each of our exhibit halls.
Over the next six months, we will be changing our way-finding signage to be video-based. These monitors will enable event planners to direct their attendees to the proper room or exhibit area, and will save them the expense of creating banners.
Can you reconfigure your space to meet the needs of different types of events?
In addition to the different combinations of our five exhibit halls and auditorium space, we can offer up to eighty-seven separate meeting rooms. The center’s movable walls allows us to configure almost a thousand different floorplan configurations as required by a particular event.
Do you offer equipment rentals or is that service outsourced?
We do have tables and chairs, as everyone does, and much of the audio-visual equipment is already installed. Our clients don’t normally have to bring in outside audio-visual contractors in to install equipment for lighting and sound, but they can. Our staff will work with clients to make sure they have everything they need; and if they have third party audio-visual companies, we will work with them to make sure everything works properly.
Who owns the convention center and are there any expansion plans in the offing?
The city of Minneapolis owns and operates the Minneapolis Convention Center, so our staff are city employees. We also have several contractors and partners that work with us in the building. Kelber Catering is our food service provider and Security Soft provides our security services. In addition, we have other contractors and partners that work in the building in various roles.
We work hard to make sure the facility provides a return in the investment that the community has made. The center generates sufficient resources to make sure that our building is maintained, looks beautiful, and has the latest, and greatest, technology and infrastructure.
We have been investing about $10 million a year in capital projects over the last four years; and that rate is going to continue for the foreseeable future. For example, we will be upgrading to LED lighting, repainting the entire building, and replacing all of the carpet. Those improvements will keep the building looking new and make it a place that people want to visit. There are no current plans in the works for enlarging the facility.
The U.S. Bank Stadium was dedicated two years ago and is the new home for the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It not only is bringing sporting events and concerts to the city, but we are also able to partner with them in hosting large events. We have had several large religious events, with 40,000 and 50,000 attendees, that have used both the convention center and the new stadium.
The Super Bowl will be here next year and that will be using both facilities, as well the NCAA basketball final four in 2019.
As our industry continues to expand, we anticipate that more event planners will find out about this hidden gem and recognize that Minneapolis is a great place for events of all kinds. The city has seen a huge expansion in the number of hotel rooms - almost 2,000 rooms have either been created or are planned in the next year or so.
Is there a hotel co-located with the Convention Center?
Minneapolis has a really cool pedestrian walkway system called the Skyway. The Skyway system is a series of enclosed bridges that are elevated above the streets. The climate-controlled connections allow you to walk throughout our city and span over nine miles. So, the convention center is connected to many different hotels through the Skyway system.
Within a two-block radius of the center, we have a Hilton and another high-end hotel called the Millennium. Those are our closest hotels, and while they are not on our grounds, they are basically right next door.
Have you undertaken any efforts to make the building more energy efficient?
Sustainablility and using our resources responsibly is part of our mission statement. It is a philosophy that has been fully embraced by our employees and is part of the Midwestern sensibility we have here in Minneapolis. When we identify an issued that is having a negative impact on energy usage or the environment, we do everything we can to mitigate the impact.
About five years ago, our employees got together and said “Hey, We want to be the best that we can be every single day; and we want to do our best for our clients and our community.” Sustainability is the area where they decided to devote their efforts. We have attacked sustainability in three areas water, energy, and recycling; and we have accomplished some really amazing things.
We were the sixth convention center in North America to receive the Level 1 certification by the ASTM and the Green Meetings Council. It is not only a question of how your building was constructed, since new buildings can be built to sustainable specifications, but also how the building is operated and maintained. It’s making sure your clients have the tools they need to meet the sustainability requirements. We received that certification in 2014 and we were re-certified 2016.
When you think about water, it’s not something that people might immediately associate with sustainability – particularly in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and on the banks of the Mississippi River. But to us, water is extremely important, and we want to be good stewards of that valuable resource. We have a goal to reduce our water usage by 50% by the year 2020. We have already reduced our water usage by 27%.
When we recently remodeled 32 of our restrooms, the new restrooms were at least 50% more water-efficient than the old ones. We’ve also replaced the large dishwasher in our kitchen with a new unit that is about 70% more efficient. And last summer, we installed a rainwater catchment system on our roof that that collects and stores 250,000 gallon of water in an underground tank that is used irrigate our grounds.
Electricity usage has also been a primary focus of our sustainability efforts. We currently have a solar array on our building which produces enough energy to power 85 homes. We have also purchased renewable energy credits, so when you combine the renewable energy credits and the solar power, 100% of the power we use is offset by either wind or solar.
We have also worked diligently to make our lighting energy-efficient. The lighting in all our exhibit halls are LED. The units that we installed, are color-changing, which allows us to change the atmosphere to better suit the needs of our clients.
Our security guards do their part to reduce power usage by turning off escalators that are not needed and turning off lights. With our new lighting control system, we can turn lights on and off based on the amount of sunlight illuminating the building.
Our goal had been to reduce energy consumption by 20% by the year 2020 and we have already achieved a 17% reduction. The lights in our ballroom will get new LED units this fall which will move us closer to our goal.
The third area of our sustainability focus is recycling. When we started the recycling program, we were recycling about 23% of the material we generate every year. We are currently recycling 62% of the material, which amounts to about 608 tons.
Although we don’t control what our clients and their events bring into our building, we provide waste stations which separate the waste into different recycling waste streams. Our goal is to maintain our recycling rate at 60% or higher through the year 2020.
Our catering company, Kelber Catering, has been recycling food for years. If it is food that is able to be consumed - if it hasn’t been touched or it’s been on a buffet line - we will pack it up and send it to a local food pantry. Otherwise, it goes to a food-to-hogs program. A local farmer will pick it up and use it to feed his pigs. Even our kitchen grease is recycled by a local towing company. They turn the grease into biofuel and use it in their trucks.
One thing that we do in our concession area is to make sure that food packaging is biodegradable or recyclable. That really helps to keep that food related waste down as much as possible.
Our employees are dedicated to these programs, and they’re dedicated to service. As hospitality professionals, it is all about service. When you look at what differentiates the Minneapolis Convention Center with other venues, it is our employees that matter. They put their heart and souls into these programs and into service for our clients.