Guest Q&A with the MCC's Jeff Johnson (Part 2)
To generate those economic opportunities, the Meet Minneapolis team continues to develop innovative and adaptive sales and marketing initiatives to support our industry during these challenging times. One of our primary tools to support the industry is to aggressively market the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC).
The state of Minnesota currently has a cap of 250 people for indoor venues, with appropriate social distancing. We have determined that the MCC can safely and comfortably host 7 such “pods” of 250 for a total of 1,750 people. We have been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and its Commissioner, Steve Grove, as well as the Minnesota Department of Health to allow larger gatherings in the MCC and other venues. We thank Commissioner Grove for his support and consideration for lifting the cap.
Once the MCC is operating at a higher capacity, surrounding hotels, restaurants and other businesses will once again benefit from the groups being held in the building. MCC Executive Director Jeff Johnson shares some follow up thoughts on the preparedness of the MCC to restart our hospitality/tourism industry to augment what he shared with us in the Minute two weeks ago.
What are some of the trends in meeting preparedness that you have discussed with some of your peers in convention center world?
In Part 1 of this Q&A, I discussed safety. But there are two other trends worth noting. In addition to safety concerns, technology is rushing into our marketplace, and it is difficult to know what technology is a good investment and which is not a long-lasting solution. Security and screening technology – along with cleaning technology – are the most talked about areas, but other technologies that help with virtual registration, timed ticketing and queuing may be just as important. How we use our building – especially our public lobbies – will be a challenge going forward that may need technology to solve it.
The single most talked about trend is the challenge for all convention centers with a complete collapse of our funding models. Most convention centers are funded through a combination of operating revenues and hospitality-based use taxes. As events cancel, operating revenue dissolves. As travel and activity evaporates, the taxing mechanism fails to provide the needed funds to pay for the infrastructure a large facility like a convention center needs. The MCC has been in a really strong financial position for decades which has helped us weather the storm in 2020. Most convention centers do not have the same situation. If this double whammy of revenue shortfalls persists through 2021, even the strongest convention centers will face serious financial challenges especially related to debt payments. Many in our industry are worried and looking to state and federal agencies for help.
You have often referred to the MCC as a relationship building. What ways can the MCC be a catalyst for bringing our community and nation back together for meetings and events?
There is no better time for human beings to take the time to listen and learn about each other’s lives and challenges. The pandemic has forced us into solitude while confining us to our small familial/friend groups that tend to be homogenous. It is only when we step outside what is comfortable, to learn about others, that our minds and actions can grow and change. There are some really tough challenges and discussions ahead. These discussions don’t work well over a video call. The true emotion and feeling that you get from the presence of another human being brings understanding of their situation and allows you to show your own humanity. I believe that human beings need to be together for art, sports, music, entertainment, work, learning, and growth. Once it is safe again, I hope the MCC can be a gathering place for understanding as we strive to help foster change in our country. Relationships that we build with our guests and clients as service professionals will bring confidence to those that are ready to return to in-person meetings. It is critical that our building helps build those broader relationships in our country and community.
What does the future hold for the MCC in the next 8-12 months?
I wish that I knew the answer. So much changes each day, and we seem to be fighting a battle with the unknown. We continue to plan for hosting large events. Realistically, it will be a slow return towards something closer to normal. Many of our events have moved to a future date so the near term is not positive, but next year could see decent event activity. The economy and the confidence of attendees to return to in-person meetings will really depend on so many factors, leading with a viable vaccine. Fortunately, we still have great demand for the future and groups wanting to continue to host their events at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The road to that future may take a while, but I feel strongly that Minneapolis is a great hospitality city that will only become a better destination for meetings.