How the Convention Center Becomes a Sports Complex

The Los Angeles Convention Center will host six events, including badminton, during the Special Olympics World Games. The venue is also the media center for the Special Olympics.  

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Convention Center is normally a place for business trade shows or colorful events such as Anime Expo. This week, however, it becomes a Downtown sports hub.

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The sprawling Figueroa Street complex will be a major gathering point for the Special Olympics World Games, hosting competitions for six events from July 25-Aug. 1. Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates the city-owned structure, anticipates 5,000-7,000 spectators each day for badminton, bocce, handball, powerlifting, roller skating and table tennis. The competitions will take place in South Hall, with the exception of powerlifting, which will run in E and F halls. 

The Convention Center also serves as the media headquarters for the Games — 2,000 reporters from around the globe are expected — and the site of its motor pool. About 300 vehicles will be parked inside Kentia Hall, to be used by volunteers and staff as needed. 

It’s been a long 14 months for AEG Facilities Event Manager Frank Keefer, who has overseen prep for the Games alongside Special Olympics organizers. This week, Keefer will guide the massive job of installing flooring, equipment, lights and bleachers. He expects the final stretch to be tough, but remains buoyed by the ambition and prominence of the Games.

“I’m driving around and seeing the ads everywhere. It’s incredible,” Keefer said. “We put our best foot forward for every single show, but the scope is so big that it gives you pride and extra motivation to do that much more.” 

Hosting sports at the Convention Center means courts must be built from scratch, with parts flown in from across the country. All eyes are on the venue to pull this off, Keefer said. 

Brad Gessner, senior vice president of AEG Facilities and general manager of the Convention Center, wrote in an email that the company is excited to be part of an athletic and humanitarian event that will go down as one of the biggest in L.A. history. 

“We have some tight turn-overs in terms of space from event to event leading up to the Games but there’s great energy,” Gessner said. “We’re a part of something much larger, something that extends far beyond the Convention Center doors.”

While the Games are impressive, the sheer number of support staff and volunteers who have turned out to run the Special Olympics remains a point of inspiration for Keefer. 

“It surpasses any event I will ever work for,” he said. “The Special Olympics doesn’t exist without volunteers. Getting them T-shirts, food, parking, managing them, it’s a huge show in and of itself.”

eddie@downtownnews.com 

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015