February 2015

Seven top settings for pharma/medical functions

by Fred Gebhart

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    Boston Convention Center

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    French Quarter, New Orleans

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    Chicago Field Museum’s Sue Rex

Medical meetings today are difficult to diagnose. Austerity is in, and new restrictions on gifts and sponsorship—as well as increased transparency in funding—has cut into the lavish giveaways and luxurious venues that were once seen as hallmarks of such events.

At the same time, overall attendance at medical meetings continues to climb. According to the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA), attendance at the industry’s top 50 events surpassed pre-recession levels in 2010 and 2011 and continues to grow. For every dismal report in the HCEA Top 50 meetings such as Digestive Disease Week (down 10.3 percent) there are multiple increases such as the American Association for Cancer Research event (up 19.8 percent), Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy (up 15.5 percent) or the American Urological Association annual function (up 12.8 percent).

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Top medical meeting destinations are growing to meet the demand. Some cities, including Chicago, are expanding existing hotel or convention center facilities. Other cities, such as New Orleans, are creating entirely new healthcare complexes that include meeting space. And some cities, like Cleveland, have done both. Here’s a quick look at how seven key medical meeting hubs are meeting new demand.


Boston has been a medical powerhouse since Harvard Medical School was founded in 1782. The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), is a constant on many a medical meeting rotation schedule. And Boston wants to keep it that way.

A $1 billion BCEC expansion, approved last summer, will add 1.3 million square feet and more than double the center’s usable space. The extra space should open the door to ever-larger medical events that now head for mega-facilities in Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando. Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) Executive Director James Rooney says the expanded BCEC will turn Boston into a top-five convention market.

MCCA and the Boston Port Authority are also moving forward on a new 1,200-room headquarters hotel near the expanded BCEC. The new property is in addition to a 500-room development with Aloft and Element properties that broke ground in December. Boston already has more than 30,000 hotel rooms and expects to add at least 3,000 new rooms by 2017.


Heading Cvent’s latest list of Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the U.S., Chicago is a longstanding hub of medical events. That status will only be boosted by this month’s debut of Matter, a dynamic new health technology space at the massive Merchandise Mart. Also, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) will break ground on a second 1,200-room headquarters hotel and 10,000-seat McCormick Place Event Center during the second quarter of this year.

That new development is across the street from McCormick Place West and includes the first Marriott Marquis in Metro Chicago. Planners get 40,000 square feet of new meeting space in the Marriott, plus two 25,000-square-foot ballrooms.

The Event Center, which will serve as home court for DePaul University basketball, will also be available for general sessions as well as concerts and other special events. The project includes renovation of the historic American Book Company building, plus pedestrian bridges connecting the hotel and event center to each other and to existing McCormick Place space.


Once a rustbelt manufacturing hub, Cleveland has evolved into an epicenter for medical innovation and technology. When the city created its new Cleveland Convention Center in 2014, the medical meetings community got its own Global Center for Health Innovation, typically better known as the Medical Mart.

The four-story Global Center is officially part of the 225,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center, but has its own 11,000-square-foot junior ballroom as well as smaller event spaces throughout the health-related display floors.

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