- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2007

The Washington Convention Center has converted its food court into themed meeting space designed to attract small groups.

Executive Orders, the new name for the dining space, can take on the theme of anything from a garden tea party to a Iron Chef-like cooking competition to space for team-building corporate events.

Executive Orders, which opened last week, has its first event — a jazz brunch — scheduled for next month, said Richard Toscano, vice president of event planning at Centerplate, the convention center’s culinary company.

The space, which holds 250 to 300 people, is designed for small associations that have not been able to take advantage of the larger halls of the convention center, or large groups already using the center who want a special area for something along the lines of a VIP reception.

“In the convention business now, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all,” said Reba Pittman Walker, chief executive officer and general manager of the Washington Convention Center Authority.

The city has been struggling to bring in large, citywide, money-making conventions it promised when the Washington Convention Center opened in 2003. The center is scheduled to host 14 conventions this year, down from 15 last year and 22 in 2005, which was an unexpectedly strong year.

To counter some of that slide, the Washington Convention Center Authority has said it would start targeting smaller groups more aggressively.

“Of course we want citywides first,” Ms. Walker said. “But [Executive Orders] will add value.”

The Washington Convention Center Authority’s board of directors thought the space was being underutilized, she said, and decided to change the format. The space can still be used as a food court if a citywide convention wants to do so, she said.

Ms. Walker said she has not found any other convention center in the country doing anything similar.

In addition to restaurant-style events, the space can hold team-building activities such as contests revolving around pizza, chocolate, sushi, wine mixing, cake decorating or ice sculpting.

Events likely will start at $30 per person, said Jamie D. Fisher, director of sales and marketing at Centerplate, adding that Executive Orders is flexible and can bring in almost anything to accommodate an idea.

In other news …

Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund and Lowe Enterprises were in town Thursday to officially mark their joint purchase of the iconic Hilton Washington hotel.

The companies plan to spend $100 million renovating the 42-year-old hotel, which hasn’t seen an upgrade in more than a decade, said Bobby Turner, managing partner of the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund.

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