Convention Center weathers Knoxville’s ice storm

📅February 19th, 2015, 14:04

When inclement weather is forecast, the key to weathering the storm is preparation. When the Convention Center team heard predictions of a winter storm for the region, we called a meeting two days before its expected arrival to develop a game plan for operating the facility.

The Knoxville Convention Center had some significant events planned at the facility during this time, including two of our largest trade shows in the exhibit hall within days of each other. The Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show concluded last Sunday, and the News Sentinel Auto Show will take over the space for a show that begins Friday. The facility also was hosting a luncheon for approximately 250 people at the Knoxville Area Urban League’s annual membership meeting and a regional conference, AdvoCare 360, which unfortunately did elect to postpone because their speakers could not make it in to town.

Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show

Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show

News Sentinel Auto Show

News Sentinel Auto Show

The first task was to make a list of essential staff who would be needed to open the building; remove ice and shovel snow; put down rock salt and snow melt; and be accessible for our clients. We reserved rooms at a local hotel partner for those staff members to stay downtown overnight. Those individuals included me; Jason Bourgoyne, director of event services and operations; Executive Chef Chris Moore; Brandon Romines, banquet manager; and Billy Smith, security manager and dock marshal.

Next, we met with our clients. The Dogwood Arts House & Garden Show is one of the most labor-intensive move-ins and move-outs that we do. The exhibit hall featured elaborate garden setups with mulch, dirt, trees and rocks, and the storm was scheduled to hit in the middle of the move-out. Show organizer Lisa Duncan worked with us to get ahead of the storm. The gardeners and the Convention Center team worked together to move out faster than usual and had cleared the exhibit hall by 6 p.m. Monday.

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6 p.m. Monday night.

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6 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The ice storm hit Knoxville on Monday afternoon. While most of Knoxville closed down as ice froze to everything, our halls were hopping. After the last of the trucks left with the house and garden show gear, the floor of the exhibit hall remained covered in mulch and also was very dusty. Our cleaning crew worked through the night to sweep and mop the floor. Our in-house rentals and décor partners, All Convention and Expo Services (ACES), worked overnight to lay down carpet throughout the exhibit hall. By 6 a.m. Tuesday, the hall was completely transformed, and our team was placing the electrical gear needed for the Auto Show to begin its move-in. We had also been in meeting with the News Sentinel Auto Show team and were also proactive in helping us getting a head of the game.

Our next challenge was clearing the way for the trucks to get from our marshaling yard to the loading dock. We contacted David Brace, director of the Public Service Department for the City of Knoxville, and crews quickly treated the roads so we had clear access for the Auto Show vehicles.

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Knoxville Area Urban League Membership Luncheon

While this was going on, we still had to get ready for the Knoxville Area Urban League’s event scheduled for Wednesday. We met with Phyllis Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League, on Tuesday morning to determine if the weather would change the organization’s plans. Before the bad weather arrived, we set up the room – the event needed a stage, audiovisual equipment, lighting and a seated luncheon – and arranged for essential food and beverage staff to stay overnight downtown. The speaker at the event, Blair Taylor, the chief community officer at Starbucks, had made it to Knoxville from Phoenix, and he needed an audience. The event was happening no matter what.

A snowy day at the Convention Center

A snowy day at the Convention Center

My team did everything in its power to get the building ready for attendees to safely enter. Bourgoyne shoveled walkways and put down rock salt. We ensured we had the appropriate level of supplies, equipment and staff to keep the building safe and accessible. The luncheon had a great turnout of dedicated individuals who braved the elements. Any leftover prepared food from the luncheon was donated to Knox Area Rescue Ministries, who put out a call to local donors for food product due to increase demand, and Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee to distribute to the homeless and needy.

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Knoxville’s ice storm hits the Convention Center.

My staff and partners who are involved in making events happen understand our industry and will do whatever it takes to keep things running smoothly. I was never worried that the weather would keep us from hosting events; I was only concerned that our clients might be inconvenienced. If clients and guests can make it to our marshaling yard and facility, we are in control. We had the facility ready and the capable staff to keep the Convention Center operational at all times.