The collapse of some concrete flooring in Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center February 5 forced the facility to close temporarily and had several groups scrambling to find different venues or dates for their meetings.
The biggest event affected was the Pittsburgh International Auto Show, which was scheduled to begin a nine-day run at the center February 9, and was forced to reschedule a scaled-down version of the event for the end of April. Other groups forced to make last-minute changes included the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the St. Could, Minnesota–based scrapbooking company Creative Memories.
The 6-inch-thick concrete floor in a loading area collapsed under the weight of a tractor-trailer, sending a mixture of concrete, steel, and equipment onto a public area below, and leaving the tractor-trailer trapped in a 20-by-60-foot hole in the floor/ceiling. No one was hurt.
The building’s architects, engineers, and contractors were called in to try to determine the cause of the collapse. At the same time, two companies were called in to perform independent reviews of the facility, and the building was completely closed,
As of the end of last week, the investigation into the floor collapse was still proceeding, but press reports quoted Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl saying that the collapse was an “isolated incident” that did not appear to threaten the structural integrity of the convention center. The results of the investigation will be released February 21.
Initial reports after the accident had convention center officials hopeful that the center would quickly reopen. Cindy Klaverkamp, senior event planner for Creative Memories, had a two-day regional convention with 300 Creative Memories consultants scheduled at the center for February 9, and she didn’t receive word until Wednesday—two days after the floor collapse, and two days before her scheduled meeting—that the convention center was definitely a no-go.
For Klaverkamp, that Wednesday turned into one of those scenarios that planners usually experience only in nightmares. While waiting to board her flight from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh, she received the call telling her the convention center was going to remain closed. To make matters worse, her flight was delayed, leaving her stranded at the airport for most of the day.
“Needless to say it was pretty stressful,” said Klaverkamp. She spent that Wednesday afternoon on her cell phone trying to rearrange the convention but found that most of the surrounding hotels, including the Westin, her convention hotel, did not have enough meeting space available. The Omni William Penn came to the rescue by rearranging meeting rooms to accommodate her. “Without that, we would have been forced to cancel the meeting,” she says.
All of this took place over the phone, and Klaverkamp didn’t even get a look at her new meeting venue until Thursday morning, 24 hours before her convention was to begin.
Klaverkamp (as well as her attendees) were delighted with the hotel, one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and most luxurious, but moving the meeting there provided several logistical challenges. The biggest: Creative Memories was allocated meeting space on the 17th floor of the hotel, which meant that all of the conference materials—17 skids worth—had to be transported up elevators on two-wheel dollies.
“Fortunately, the convention center let us use their people,” said Klaverkamp. The center also provided the audiovisual equipment and support that the Omni wasn’t able to handle at the last minute.
Klaverkamp lauded the efforts that the convention center, Omni, and Westin staff made on her behalf. The Westin provided shuttle service to the Omni and helped to coordinate communications with attendees to make sure they knew where they were supposed to go when the event began.
She was concerned that the Omni’s kitchen might not be able to handle pulling together a function for 300 people in 24 hours, “but they put together some wonderful menus and definitely had enough food available for everyone.”
Despite the stressful start, the convention went off with only a few hitches. “I can’t tell you how well it all went,” Klaverkamp said. “One thing I kept telling myself was that it was good we only had 300 people attending. Any more than that and we would have had to cancel.”