Unmistakably Oregon: Finding a sense of place at the new Oregon Convention Center

Brand Story – Organic and inclusive, the remodeled Convention Center makes visitors feel at ease and at home.

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Convention centers, like airports, can possess a disorienting quality that leaves guests forgetting which city they are in as they walk the nondescript halls. But of all the words that describe Portland’s newly renovated Oregon Convention Center  —  welcoming, organic, intuitive  —  Oregonian tops the list.

Each aspect of the design leaves visitors with no doubt as to where they presently are in the world.

“We really wanted to emphasize Oregon — a sense of place. We wanted to inform people, ‘You’re in Oregon,’ from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave,” explains Craig Stroud, executive director of the Oregon Convention Center.

A visitor wandering through the large facility will find echoes of Oregon’s natural splendor at every turn. In areas where people tend to gather, the carpeting breaks from its neutral tone into patches of color, emulating flower blooms or lichen.

OCC Renovated Spaces
IMG 8401 2The Oregon Ballroom and adjacent lobby showcase tree canopy and mountain range-inspired ceiling treatments. 

The impression of trees courses through the space in the form of textured wall fabric reminiscent of a stand of trees, ceiling patterns that filter light like a forest canopy, wall art mimicking the rings of tree trunks and wood-based artwork.

“The topographic Cascade Mountain Range is stunning, ties right into the aesthetic and is something any native Oregonian would recognize,” Stroud notes, referring to an impressive, inverted ceiling installment that accurately outlines the features of the Cascade Mountain Range, such as Crater Lake and Mount Hood.

A new outdoor space draws members of the community for peaceful lunch breaks, while an amphitheater hemmed by rain gardens, native plants and basalt allows events to spill outside the walls or be hosted entirely outdoors.

In addition to high-quality sound systems, new lighting and general equipment upgrades, the building hosts a $2 million art collection that could rival a gallery, with each piece selected and administered by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

“The space went from architectural and formal, and really evolved into organic and comfortable. It’s like we took a house and made it a home. I see it in our guests,” Stroud says. “They seem more relaxed, kicking back, putting their feet up and enjoying. That’s a tremendous driver.”

JEK 0430Oregon Convention Center Executive Director Craig Stroud

Originally constructed in 1990, the convention center underwent a size-doubling expansion in 2003 that aligned with the original style. As Portland grew, both as a convention and tourist destination, the team acknowledged the need to bring the building firmly into the 21st century, with room to grow.

In 2013, they began examining funding and putting a plan together. Whereas other buildings could simply pause business during construction, the convention center needed to honor its commitments, which are generally confirmed five or more years in advance.

“It was a lot of logistical work, like a Tetris puzzle. We worked very closely with our architect and contractor, and thought about noise, dust, vibration, smell,” Stroud recalls. “We had a detailed noise calendar based on our event schedule.”

When events occurred, work would simply halt for days at a time. The well-orchestrated disruption had no effect on consistently positive customer reviews and the project ended on budget and on time; October 2019 to be exact.

Ultimately, Stroud and his team want Oregon-based guests to feel proud of the convention center and the improvements made using public funds: “I want them to feel welcome and feel like they’re in their home.”

OCC Renovation Sit Steps 01Visitors enjoy modern, comfortable seating during events, including power connectivity for charging their devices.

They believe that a truly welcoming space values diversity. The project spurred the largest public-awarded contract in Oregon to a minority-owned general contractor at the time of the award. Roughly 50% of that $30 million construction contract went to subcontractors certified by Oregon’s Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity. Another 35% of the on-site workforce were women and people of color.

Beyond that, single-user restrooms, family restrooms and nursing pods all aim to put guests at ease.

A newly opened corridor connects the building’s north and south ends, preventing visitors from having to navigate multiple levels to traverse the facility.

“That was important to us. It wasn’t intuitive before. People with children and strollers, individuals with mobility challenges, an exhibitor pulling a cart of materials — they all had to find an elevator, travel across the lobby and back down again,” Stroud explains.

The convention center is an important driver of the city’s economic growth.
“A visiting conventioneer spends an average of $400/day on a hotel, transportation, retail shopping, food and beverage, and sightseeing,” he adds. “In total direct and indirect spending, we’re generating north of $500 million a year of economic impact.”

What does that look like exactly? Five thousand jobs fed by roughly 500 events, 50 conventions and 600,000 visitors a year. Its three-day Rose City Comic Con alone draws 75,000 attendees.

Aside from an impactful economic presence, the convention center also fills an essential cultural role in the fabric of Portland, bringing the world to the city’s doorstep and exposing residents to new experiences and ideas.

IMG 8252 2

The Center’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion translates into activities that reflect the community and their needs, as well as a conscious effort to invite diverse organizations.

In conjunction with the renovation, a 600-room Headquarter Hotel will open its doors in December, a partnership with the Hyatt Corporation. An instant jump in event bookings followed the unveiling of this convenient and affordable new rooming option.

The Oregon Convention Center, owned and operated by Metro and managed through the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission (MERC), continuously calibrates to Portland’s economic activity as a whole, intertwining with its airport expansion, transportation network and visitor capacity.

Its newfound bandwidth positions the convention center to fully support the city’s economic momentum, wherever it leads, while sharing the spirit of Oregon to all who walk its corridor.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.