For nearly 60 years, the Greenville Convention Center has served as the community’s front porch, giving visitors and residents a taste of what the region has to offer.
The convention center continues to play a role in shaping the experience visitors have coming to Greenville, even as the convention industry nationwide has adapted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While technology and teleconferencing play an expanded role in meetings and conventions, the heart of a convention center’s mission remains bringing people together face-to-face.
One tool among many
The role of a convention center is seemingly straightforward: to serve as a gathering space for meetings and conferences whose attendees will spend money at local hotels and businesses. It showcases the community and is often the first experience visitors have of the area.
Understanding this role is something Matt Hollander brings to the table as the convention center’s general manager with OVG360, the management team brought in to take over operations earlier this year. Hollander has 30 years of experience in hospitality and venue management — most recently in Atlanta — and said the GCC strives to create unique experiences that leave a mark on every person who comes to Greenville.
In Greenville’s economic-development ecosystem, the convention center serves as a stepping stone to help attract visitors and new businesses to the Upstate. The GCC works closely with important players in Greenville’s tourism industry, including VisitGreenvilleSC.
Heath Dillard, president of VisitGreenvilleSC, said the convention center provides a strong financial and economic impact on the market.
“The Greenville Convention Center is a great asset for us to be able to bring meetings and conventions and events to this market that help us fill our hotel rooms,” Dillard said. “Their attendees fill our restaurants and shop in our retail establishments.”
VisitGreenvilleSC has hosted 51 events with 146,185 total attendees at the GCC since 2020. The estimated economic impact of those events is $29.1 million.
While the convention center helps to attract outside companies, it also serves as a resource the local community can use to host gatherings and events. Nonprofits, businesses and organizations based in the Upstate work with the GCC team to plan various events, from fundraising functions to professional meetings.
Location, location, location
While GCC helps draw new people to the area for events, Hollander believes the community’s genuine and friendly nature does the heavy lifting in bringing them back to Greenville.
“There’s something unique about Greenville,” he said.
Greenville’s location also sets it apart from other markets that share similar venues, food and identity. The area’s accessibility by highway or through the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and Greenville Downtown Airport — which is next to GCC — is a major asset.
Greenville is also situated between two of the largest markets in the Southeast: Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.
But what the Upstate offers more broadly is a break from urban bustle.
“We’re also really close to those peaceful elements that neither of those large communities can offer,” Hollander said.
Attention to detail
Organizing events at the GCC and tailoring the space to meet individual needs of exhibitors does not happen overnight. It requires building relationships with companies and countless hours spent planning an event to give guests a memorable experience.
Hollander said he loves how there is a long life cycle from when the GCC engages with a potential client until the guests actually arrive for the event. Many events are scheduled years in advance.
“For example, we’re right now working with VisitGreenvilleSC on a bid for an event that will convene here in 2028,” Hollander said. “So we’re building that relationship. We’re in a selling process collectively with VisitGreenvilleSC. There’s a lot of things that need to work out for us to win this business.”
Part of that preparation is bringing together the “village” of folks required for an event. Beyond its full-time staff, the GCC can bring in hundreds of temporary workers in the days and weeks before an event to perform myriad tasks.
When OVG360 stepped in to run the GCC, most of the existing staff remained as did their decades of experience and community relationships. Hollander said each employee provides unique insight for the operation.
Bringing that diversity of knowledge to the center’s operations is key to ensuring events are successful.
One key element that can elevate a visitor’s experience at the GCC is food. Hollander said the convention center’s reputation for culinary excellence is something no one on his team takes for granted.
“For us, it’s not an afterthought,” he said.
Hollander said recent years have seen a shift in travelers’ expectations from the places they visit. Travel is increasingly about enjoying a memorable experience. For many, the deciding factor often comes down to the caliber of the food served.
He said the food the GCC serves not only has to be excellent but presented in a way that enhances the total experience.
This is especially true when set against the backdrop of Greenville’s reputation as a foodie community where choices abound and a range of experiences can be had on a par with much larger markets.
“We have a thriving culinary environment, and that drives our push to lead with great food experiences,” Hollander said.
This commitment prompted the GCC to make a substantial investment in updated equipment and dinnerware to enhance both the food’s quality and presentation.
Whether it’s excellent food or ensuring a conference makes a memorable first impression for visitors, Hollander said the GCC will continue to serve Greenville and its residents.
“It’s a meaningful impact,” he said. “People may have been impacted by the building who have never stepped through our doors.”
A large footprint
The Greenville Convention Center, located at 1 Exposition Drive, includes:
- 23,000 square feet of exhibit space
- 50,000-square-foot conference hall
- 30,000-square-foot ballroom
- Eight meeting spaces
Greenville Convention Center through time
The center has a deep connection with Greenville’s heritage as a worldwide textile manufacturing hub, with the region’s first textile exposition taking place in 1915. Here are a few milestones in the GCC’s history:
- 1964: A new Textile Hall is built at the GCC’s current location after nearly 50 years in downtown Greenville.
- 1966: Textile Hall expands to 368,000 square feet of exhibition space, making it among the largest such structures in the country.
- 1993: Textile Hall is renamed to the Palmetto International Exhibition and Convention Center, frequently shortened to Palmetto Expo Center.
- 2001: The Palmetto Expo Center is bought by city of Greenville.
- 2007: Carolina First Bank purchases naming rights; the facility becomes the Carolina First Center.
- 2011: Name changed to TD Convention Center following TD Bank’s acquisition of Carolina First Bank and assuming that company’s naming rights.
- 2018: Name changed to Greenville Convention Center.
VisitGreenvilleSC and the Greenville Convention Center have collaborated to host many events with significant economic impact. Here are some of the largest events:
B.A.S.S. Bassmaster Classic 2022
- 70,000 attendees
- 3,311 hotel rooms contracted
- $8.9 million economic impact
AME Church’s ASPIRE 2023
- 3,000 attendees
- 1,227 hotel rooms contracted
- $1.45 million economic impact
TD Synnex Inspire Conference 2023
- 1,300 attendees
- 2,956 hotel rooms contracted
- $1.3 million economic impact
Great Homeschool Conventions’ Southeast Homeschool Convention 2021
- 5,000 attendees
- 1,023 hotel rooms contracted
- $1 million economic impact
“The Greenville Convention Center hosts a wide variety of events that contribute significantly to our city’s cultural richness and economic vitality,” said Greenville Deputy City Manager Brandon Madden. “Its size, flexibility, and strong reputation for quality of service make it a premiere location for corporate gatherings, conferences, fundraisers and professional meetings.”
A strong staff
Greenville Convention Center’s current staff includes food and beverage and venue personnel. It has 33 full-time and 64 part-time employees. The GCC also employs around 100 temporary employees across its operations.