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The region’s booster-in-chief talks about the impact Golden 1 Center is expected to have on ‘the second-largest industry in our market.’
AT AN AGE WHEN MOST PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERING RETIREMENT—or considered it three years earlier and went for it— Steve Hammond, 68, is having “the best time I’ve ever had in my career.”
Hammond has been the president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) since 1999—and also of the Sacramento Sports Commission for the past three years. But his job title could just as easily be regional booster-in-chief. The SCVB, a private, nonprofit agency, is tasked with booking conventions and conferences into the Sacramento Convention Center and filling the area’s hotels as many days and nights per year as possible. The emergence of Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons is making it easier and easier to sell Sacramento as a destination, he says.
The SCVB generally books events that will take place a minimum of 18 months and beyond while the staff of the convention center, a Sacramento city government division, is responsible for booking things “18 months and in,” Hammond says. Naturally, there’s occasional spillover. “Yes, we ‘control’ the convention calendar 18 months and out, but inside of 18 months, we still continue to book conventions in available space. At the 18-month mark, the convention center team puts all of its annual flat shows on the calendar.”
These are shows that generally draw a local crowd, he explains—such as a golf or a home and garden show. “These shows are good business for the convention center but they drive minimal economic impact for the city precisely because the attendance is typically local. Our bookings, on the other hand, attract out-of-town attendees who use hotels, restaurants and a variety of other local businesses and services.”
Prior to taking the top post at the SCVB, Hammond was the senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Before that, he was executive vice president of sales and marketing during a seven-year stint with the San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A California native, Hammond is a jaunty executive who jokes that he still plays “old-guy basketball” at the Capital Athletic Club “Monday nights, Thursdays at lunch and Saturday mornings.” He sat down for a lunch interview at the Sutter Club on Ninth and L streets, a couple of blocks from Golden 1 Center and, in a follow-up email exchange, discussed the impact he thinks the arena and its spinoff developments will have on Sacramento’s tourism industry.
The Citizen Hotel
How do you think the new arena plus Downtown Commons, or DOCO project, will affect tourism? Will its impact be felt only downtown or will it provide measurable benefits to the region?
Let me back up a bit. More than a decade ago, the SCVB’s board of directors and executive staff deemed a new arena as an organizational priority because we knew that the new facility would greatly enhance and grow the city’s convention and tourism industry. In the meetings industry, convention planners choose destinations based on two major factors: infrastructure and image.
How are you using the term infrastructure?
Kind of globally. I’m talking about transportation, convenience, available rooms, the quality of the rooms, the airline service, the airport itself—and then there’s the facility: What sort of exhibit space can we expect, is there a ballroom, are there enough break-out meeting rooms? There are other considerations, too. Is there a night life? Are there things for spouses or partners to do during the day? It all comes under the heading of infrastructure in this industry.
Are you and your staff already noticing an uptick in sales or activity?
Even when it was months before the arena was due to open, it was already significantly amplifying Sacramento’s image and immediately presented opportunities for us to engage convention clients and overnight visitors who’ve been recently influenced by the new and exciting offerings.
Do any of the people or organizations you’re courting use the opportunity of your bringing them here just so they can see the new arena, since it’s being talked about all across the country—even though they may have no intention of booking a conference in Sacramento?
Ah, you’ve heard of that: In the industry, we call it fam scamming. Recently there’s been a lot of conversation about the ethics of hosted buyer visits, which the industry refers to as familiarization, or fam, trips. These are a good way for us to offer organizations that haven’t been to Sacramento a much-needed site visit to explore our offerings. But we vet our invitees to ensure that they’re not “fam scamming”— accepting a trip knowing they’ll never book business in that destination. Almost as worthy of disgust as a fam scammer is someone who accepts the trip, then doesn’t participate in the site visits or skips pre-planned appointments with potential vendors. Planners have a responsibility to be honest with their intentions when participating on fams and we only invite meeting planners that have business that’s a good fit for Sacramento and are sincere in the exploration of our destination. Fams that incorporate education, giving the participants a chance to step into the shoes of their attendees, are the most popular and they help planners better match destinations and venues with their attendees’ needs. The bottom line is that we’re able to convince a high percentage of meeting planners to choose Sacramento once they’ve experienced all that our destination has to offer.
Do you have some facts and figures about how a development like this has paid off for other cities?
An entertainment and sports complex—which in industry jargon we refer to as an ESC—is a proven catalyst for additional economic development in a city’s urban core. The development of ESCs has been the genesis for significant development in cities like Denver, Indianapolis, Phoenix and Kansas City . . . (to) accelerate and complement revitalization efforts in their urban cores. This strategy works best when the ESC is well integrated into the community. Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons development have certainly woven themselves into the fabric of our downtown. Indianapolis, which used ESC development as part of a long-term downtown revitalization strategy, reported a 78 percent increase in annual downtown visitors compared to 15 years prior to the opening of their arena.
Hyatt Regency Sacramento
Do most of us even understand how big tourism is for Sacramento?
Not always. The convention and tourism industry generates $2.8 billion annually for the Sacramento region. Tourism also represents the second-largest industry in our market and still has the potential to grow. Golden 1 Center complements our existing assets—like our hotels, the convention center, and other amenities essential to attracting convention and sports business. The arena has already fueled economic growth by giving the SCVB a large-scale event venue in the downtown core to market to meeting professionals and potential sports groups.
You’ve mentioned that the new arena will also give you an advantage in attracting religious groups, which often need a stadium-sized venue for its ceremonies.
Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind that Golden 1 Center is a significant economic engine for the region. It’s estimated that it has the potential to attract 3 million visitors annually and host events a minimum of 225 days or nights a year. Regardless of the event type, the center will be a major contributor of sales tax revenue, hotel room nights and associated taxes, restaurant and retail sales, and other economic development objectives, which ultimately create revenue for the city.
What are the benefits that are difficult to measure?
Once opened, Golden 1 Center and Downtown Commons will have the ability to bring thousands of people together for a shared experience. That’s one of the intangibles you can’t measure in spreadsheets. The venue’s diversity of programming will definitely add to the fabric of the community and enhance the quality-of-life opportunities for the region’s residents. Entertainment is a reflection of our culture and the development is a reflection of our city’s pride and savoir faire—factors that just can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Do people really travel to a state capital just to see an arena?
While visitors wouldn’t generally visit a city solely to see a new arena, from an infrastructure standpoint, some of the groups the SCVB pursues want venues with beautiful surroundings and large general-session space. They want these venues close to downtown hotels and meeting facilities, meaning Golden 1 Center is much better positioned to accommodate these groups than Sleep Train Arena. The entertainment and sports complex also presents significant opportunities for sporting events that could produce first-time events for Sacramento as well as return events, like the NCAA Basketball Championship, which is returning in March 2017.
How does Golden 1 Center affect the SCVB’s other division, the Sacramento Sports Commission?
First you have to understand that we’re kind of sports crazy in Sacramento (laughs). When the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau took over the duties of the Sports Commission three years ago, we recognized the importance of reviving and building on our history of track and field in Sacramento. Sacramento’s history in the sport of track and field is a rich one. It started in 1966—at the All-American Invitational at Hughes Stadium, where San Jose State sprinter Tommie Smith broke the world record for the 220-yard dash. And of course, Sacramento played host to the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials, the 2014 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships and the 2016 USA National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships with great success. With the return of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships to Sacramento in 2017, I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job of reintroducing track and field back to our community. I should also point out that the athletes who become medalists in 2017 will be on their way to the 2018 World Championship in London. So Sacramento finds itself in a pivotal role of identifying America’s participants in the World Track & Field Championships.
But if the track events aren’t going to be held at the new arena, how does its existence help you draw other sports events?
Golden 1 Center is going to greatly enhance and grow our opportunity to attract more sporting events. In the sports industry, rights holders choose destinations based on facilities and notoriety—and Sacramento’s new entertainment and sports complex has significantly enhanced both. We’ve already been presented several opportunities to engage clients that we previously could not accommodate because of lack of hotel rooms adjacent to the previous arena location. The Golden 1 Center is a game changer that has put a vibrant new face on the Sacramento sports brand.
Is there anything your marketing team is doing differently as a result of the new developments coming in?
The actual process of our marketing hasn’t changed as a result of the new development but our message has certainly been enhanced and our client base has grown because of all the new amenities we have to offer.
How does being the Farm-to-Fork Capital—which, for Sacramento, is a far more authentic label than in other cities where it’s being deployed in one form or another—factor into the mixture of amenities? We know that Golden 1 Center and the other new eateries are true believers when it comes to locally sourced food and sustainable practices.
Let’s start with some numbers. The Farm-to-Fork Festival will attract at least 55,000 people in September. We’ve added two more city blocks downtown just to accommodate the visitors and the locals. And you already know that the dinner on the Tower Bridge sells out even more quickly than the Paul McCartney concerts [October 4–5] did.
What about other states and cities claiming they’re farm to fork as well?
Come on. In California, we can grow food 12 months out of the year. I want this movement to include all of the six counties in our region. We have to be all in about this. It’s who we are as a culture and economy. All we needed to do was market it because we didn’t need to invent the brand—it already existed.
Embassy Suites Sacramento Hotel
Do you have a specific goal in mind?
Absolutely! I want every school in every county in our region to have a garden. I want every kid growing up to know where the food they comes from. And they understand enjoy the fact that they can create what they eat.
Parting thoughts: How have you seen tourism change since the arena was announced or strongly hinted at? Did you get a new influx of inquiries or bookings as the arena started to sound like a reality?
From an image standpoint, the entertainment and sports complex has been a development catalyst for Sacramento’s Central Business District and has put a vibrant new face on the Sacramento brand. Ever since the day the Sacramento City Council approved the arena, there have been ongoing conversations with a number of sports groups, concert promoters and meeting planners who’ve expressed interest in bringing their business to Sacramento—and many have already booked. The city’s return-on-investment began well before the first shovel hit the ground and there is a renaissance in the downtown like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s an exciting time to be a Sacramentan.
Sheraton Grand Sacramento
In and around downtown, a number of inns and hotels give tourists overnight options near the action. Here’s a select list.
• Amber House Bed & Breakfast
1315 22nd St.
• Best Western Plus Sutter House
1100 H St.(916) 441-1314
• The Citizen Hotel
926 J St.
• Courtyard by Marriott—Sacramento Midtown
4422 Y St.
• Delta King Hotel
1000 Front St.
• Embassy Suites Sacramento Hotel
100 Capitol Mall
• Governor’s Inn Hotel
210 Richards Blvd.
• Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza
300 J St.(916) 446-0100
• Holiday Inn Express Sacramento Convention Center
728 16th St.
• Hyatt Regency Sacramento
1209 L St.
• Inn at Parkside Bed & Breakfast
2116 Sixth St.
• Inn off Capitol Park
1530 N St.
• Kimpton Hotel—The Sawyer (to open March 2017)
• Residence Inn by Marriott Sacramento Downtown at Capitol Park
1121 15th St.
• Sheraton Grand Sacramento
1230 J St.
• Sterling Hotel
1300 H St.
• The Westin Sacramento
4800 Riverside Blvd.