Lights, Camera Action – Virginia Beach
Convention Center uses high-tech lighting and video system to make
big impression
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: December 01,2006
VIRGINA BEACH, Va. —
Technology isn’t enough to create the future of convention
centers. 
           
Above all, the design must be functional, explained Courtney Dyer,
general manager for the newly-christened Virginia Beach Convention
Center. Next it must be customizable to meet the growing needs of
today’s business community. It must be scaleable to meet the
needs of different sized groups, and upgradeable to meet the needs
of changing
technology.          
           
For the city of Virginia Beach, that means a highly-customizable,
technology-driven 500,000 square-foot meeting space fully outfitted
with the latest in fiber-optic information technology, advances in
natural lighting, a newly designed LED lighting system and the
first-of-its-kind panoramic video projection wall in the convention
center’s uninterrupted pre-functionary
space.           
           
Technology and functionality are the inspirations for the new
system, which will be completed in 2007. Dyer has already begun
booking the space to auto dealers, the American Helicopters
Association and the American Bus Association and has plans for his
first general consumer show following the completion of Phase 1 of
the city-owned project which, when completed, will include four
dividable exhibit halls, three ballroom spaces and 22 adjustable
meeting room spaces, laid over a 50-acre campus with over 4,500
parking spaces. Construction crews are working to create the final
100,000 square-feet of exhibit space, to be completed in the
beginning of 2007. The facility is self-managed by the city of
Virginia Beach and holds a food contract with the Boston Culinary
Group.         
           
To the passerby, the facility’s imposing multi-story glass
facade serves as the center’s most striking access point,
flooding the convention center’s 94,000 square-feet of
pre-function space with hours of natural lighting and scenes from
the Virginia Beach community. But once inside, the imposing glass
panels take a back seat to the center’s new video wall, a
360-foot long, nine-foot high projection screen divided into
90-foot sections throughout four parts of the facility.
       
           
Technical Services Coordinator Jim Worthy powers the video wall
with a software application called WatchOut, allowing him to create
unique video montages using video, digital photographs and audio
provided by clients.
           
“The software allows us to spread video over 8 projectors so
that we’re not limited to one single panel,” he said of
the system, which operates on an extremely wide 1:9 ratio. Most
clients use the video wall to combine promotional material with
convention information, but the convention center has also
commissioned two separate video art montages from national artists
for display when a convention doesn’t have enough material
for its own display. The first piece by Los Angeles videographer
Robert Drummond fuses a collage of nature footage from Virginia
Beach. Graphic designer Tricia McLaughlin also created a
3D-animated short depicting the center’s construction in an
underwater
scene.            
           
The end-panel on each side of the giant screen can be used to
display convention information and will eventually be linked to the
facility’s event management software. A panel can also be
rolled behind the remainder of the screen to open up a
multi-purpose concession area that services both the pre-function
space and the main
ballrooms.       
           
“If there is an assembly event inside, sometimes they
don’t want a concession stand to appear,” Dyer said.
“Or you might just have people hanging out in the
pre-function space that need access to
concessions.”   
           
Each ballroom is also serviced with a multipurpose room that serves
the meeting space and the pre-function area with a small ticketing
countertop. Above the space is a LED reader board. Power access
points sit every 20 feet along the entire front row of the
perimeter of the pre-function space, followed by alternating spots
along the back row.    
           
Its second technological focus is centered around its unique LED
lighting system for its three wood-paneled ballrooms. Using a
computer control LED panel, the convention center can provide an
infinite array of colors and lighting patterns from its ceiling,
including its bright “white work mode” for exhibitor
functions. 
           
Attached to the lighting fixtures are 28 electrified sky-hooks to
fly tresses and another 128 rigging points to power and support
audio-visual equipment in the
ceiling.    
           
“The rigging capabilities here are very nice,” Dyer
said. “From an entertainment box standpoint, it gives us an
amazing amount of
flexibility.”         
           
Along the wall, a series of lighting boxes designed to look like
planters and fitted with fluorescent tubes give the giant wooden
paneled walls some texture to break up the
view-plane.  
           
“It’s a perforated acoustic paneling designed as a
custom application to fit the same materials that run along the
ceiling,” Dyer said of the treated wood used throughout the
ballrooms. Dyer estimated the building had 25 different computer
applications in place to run various parts of the building,
including four applications strictly dedicated to powering the AV
system, designed by a former employee. The facility uses a
centralized audio and video system. 
           
“With our audio system, we use Cobranet,” he said.
“It’s a protocol for taking analog audio over digital.
It converts it to a master control board so that you are able to
send your audio signal anywhere — in another part of the
building or even another part of the
world.”       
           
The convention center’s emphasis on individualized space
comes alive with its multi-purpose executive tower, creating an
architectural accent for the front of the center as well as a
unique space for smaller group
meetings.        
           
The four-story, 147-foot tower has private and public spaces that
can be utilized for various functions. On the bottom floor is a
full service coffee shop and café. Here is a breakdown of
the rest of the
space:        
           
Executive Boardroom: The second floor of the tower is a large
executive boardroom for smaller managerial meetings. Large glass
panels allow natural lighting to seep into the space through remote
controlled window shutters. The large v-shape executive meeting
table is wired with hard-wired Internet access points for each seat
station, along with a unique wireless access router and a
microphone voice center for group conference calls. The space was
recently utilized by the Hampton Roads Automotive Dealers
Association. 
           
“Every big building has its car show,” Dyer said.
“Their planning committee will meet in there some days and
the executive committee will also utilize the
space.” 
           
VIP Lounge: Just above the Executive Boardroom is a VIP lounge for
private receptions and small events. Highlighted with leather
furniture and a long glass bar, the room is also lit with large
40-foot glass panes that fill the room with natural lighting. Like
the boardroom below, the VIP Lounge is serviced with its own
kitchenette catering
station.           
           
“We use it as an entertainment suite,” Dyer said.
“A lot of times we use it for private receptions. It’s
typically used in conjunction with much larger
spaces.”          
           
View tower: The top portion of the exterior tower is an open-air
observation space with striking views of the Virginia Beach
ocean-front and surrounding areas.  
           
The concept of individualized meeting spaces extends into each of
the center’s four exhibit halls, all of which can be
connected or partitioned into separate spaces with their own
entry-points, restrooms, concession and food service stations and
loading docks. To eliminate confusion over booth space, 10 X 10
foot spaces are permanently etched into the ground for quick
reference for designers. Above each of the four exhibit halls is an
event management office with a glass-paneled wall overlooking the
convention floor space.       
           
Across the hall, each meeting room comes customized with its own
controlled lighting and temperature system, along with a
centralized music system that pipes in five different channels of
digital music. Even the podiums are adjustable, connected to a
hydraulic lift that powers them up and down to adjust to the
heights of different public
speakers.       
           
“The convention market is getting really competitive and we
knew we needed something that would give us an edge over the other
spaces currently on the market,” said sales director Al
Hutchinson, who began preselling the building before construction
had even begun. “Ultimately we wanted to create the most
functional space possible using today’s
technology.”
 

Interviewed for this story: Al Hutchinson, (757) 385-6652; Courtney
Dyer, ( 757) 385-2161; Jim Worthy, (757) 385-2000