Convention center nears reopening amid urgent work, long-term planning

A Maxim Roofing worker repairs the roof of the skywalk between the Dayton Convention Center and the Crowne Plaza Hotel on April 2, 2021 GARLAND COMPANY PHOTO

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A Maxim Roofing worker repairs the roof of the skywalk between the Dayton Convention Center and the Crowne Plaza Hotel on April 2, 2021 GARLAND COMPANY PHOTO

The Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority, owner of the Dayton Convention Center for a week, is racing to make critical repairs before reopening for events next month while continuing to lay the groundwork for more lasting improvements.

“I really believe that what we’re about to do, when we look back 20 or 30 years from now, I think that people are going to say that we changed this city for the betterment and I think we have the right people and the personnel to help us do that,” said Walter Reynolds, chair of the Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority (CFA).

The city of Dayton, which owned and operated the facility for 48 years, transferred ownership to the CFA last week.

“We’re rolling right along with the transition,” said Pam Plageman, the CFA’s executive director.

The convention center has been closed since the pandemic began other than opening doors for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, which will end April 24. But the venue will be back to hosting bookings when Beyond the Stars solo dancers and teams gather to compete April 30-May 2. About 20 more groups are scheduled through 2021, Plageman said.

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The CFA earlier selected ASM Global to manage day-to-day operations. The company last week named Kelli Donahue general manager of the facility. Donahue, who begins work in Dayton today, was previously the director of sales and marketing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

ASM Global also provides management services for convention centers in Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus.

An ASM Global team was in town Monday and Tuesday for a full-facility audit that included a specialist to assess the HVAC system, Plageman said.

An earlier energy audit of the building revealed about $2 million in proposed upgrades were needed for air handling, technology, lighting and other improvements, she said.

Completed in 1973, the Dayton Convention Center has 150,000 square feet of meeting space, a 77,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 22 meeting rooms and spaces, three ballrooms and a theater.

Plageman said the top priority before reopening is giving the facility a deep cleaning and fixing some deferred maintenance. An active leak in the skywalk and another in the main roof continue to wreak havoc, she said. Work to plug the skywalk leak began last week.

“We’ve literally had floods in the skywalk,” she said. “We’ve got to get that stopped.”

Lack of attention has also left an elevator in disrepair and escalators in violation of code because the steps haven’t been cleaned properly, Plageman told the board last week. Air purifiers are being added to elevators and new UV disinfectant systems will sanitize escalator handrails as they rotate, she said.

Plumbing fixtures in some areas of the building haven’t been used in months so workers performed a full-facility water flush on Monday and took samples to be tested. Sinks, toilets, towel dispensers and hand dryers are all being converted to touchless operation, Plageman said.

“We’re looking at every aspects of health and safety for our guests coming back,” she said.

The CFA’s ability to collect a 3% lodging tax to fund improvements kicked in at the beginning of last month, but hotels in the county have until the end of April to remit collections.

“We’ll start seeing some revenue rolling in from tax payments soon,” Plageman said.

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Board member Belinda Kenley said CFA’s marketing and planning committee has had a series of four visioning sessions with local government, nonprofit and business leaders, whose suggestions for the convention center’s future are being compiled.

“We got some great insight and feedback into their perspective on what the convention center should be,” she said.

The facilities authority is currently developing a four-phase master plan to guide renovations through 2024.

The marketing and planning committee also has a meeting scheduled today to review potential new logo designs for rebranding the facility.

In other business last week, the CFA picked Pepsi as the facility’s beverage provider over Coca Cola, which had the previous contract.

The board hired consultant Darlene Gironi to oversee the competitive bidding process and negotiations between the CFA and the two soft drink vendors. Pepsi agreed to a five-year contract with price protections in years two through five while Coca Cola offered only a one-year term.

CFA board member Thomas Whelley said the beverage decision was not difficult.

“It really was not even a close discussion,” he said.

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