GRAND INDEED: The new Grand Hall is the biggest ballroom in Oklahoma. (Courtesy Cox Business Convention Center)
Project at Tulsa’s Cox Business Convention Center adds space, possibilities for clients
The Cox Business Convention Center in Tulsa is back to hosting events while boasting a recently completed $55 million renovation that’s been 10 years in the making.
Funded by Vision Tulsa, an economic development and capital improvement project encompassing 37 projects in Tulsa County that was voted on and is supported by county residents, the project’s construction phase took two years, leading to an August ribbon-cutting. The development team included Matrix Architects Engineers Planners Inc., Forest for the Trees architects, and Tulsa Vision Builders, a joint venture of local firms Flintco and Manhattan Construction Group.
The renovation retains design elements of the existing convention center, which was built in 1962, and includes a new three-story glass atrium that adds an alluring entryway to the facility. Inside is a more than 8,000-square-foot Grand Gallery awash in natural light.
The atrium forms a main entrance that “is visible right down Fifth Street, which is one of the main thoroughfares in downtown Tulsa,” CBCC Assistant General Manager Angie Teel said.
The center’s former 9,000-seat arena has been replaced by a 41,470-square-foot Grand Hall — the largest in the state — and a new kitchen has been added, along with a new box office, restrooms and escalators.
“We’re happy that we are retaining the title of the largest ballroom in Oklahoma,” Teel said. “Previously we had the record with our Tulsa Ballroom at just over 30,000 square feet, so we broke our own record.”
The arena had been replaced as the city’s primary concert destination when the 19,000-plus-seat BOK Center, which like the CBCC is managed by ASM Global, opened in 2008.
The former arena’s rigging system was retained, “which is really truly unique to a ballroom to have arena-style rigging above it complete with a fall-arrest system,” Teel said.
“That’s really exciting, and I think it really sets us apart from a lot of similar spaces our size,” she said.
The Grand Hall also has a sophisticated lighting system. “We can actually control each individual fixture to (adjust) the color and brightness. So that’s going to be a great feature for general sessions and things like that,” Teel said.
The renovated facility now has two places for load in and load out: One is at ground level off the center’s main drive, and the former roll-up door from the arena, which can be used in conjunction with a freight elevator, has been retained, Teel said.
The renovation of the building’s kitchen is another aspect of the project Teel is pleased about.
“Before, our kitchen worked great for the one ballroom that we had and the rest of the convention center, but almost doubling your ballroom size, you’ve got to be able to maintain consistency in the level of service in food and beverage, so our wonderful chef Devin Levine (of ASM’s in-house concessionaire Savor, which has been in both the CBCC and the BOK Center since the latter opened) was an integral part of designing this custom kitchen,” Teel said.
“At 27,000 square feet, our kitchen is bigger than a lot of people’s ballrooms that are in the same market as us. It’s really exciting to see the culinary team in their element in this great space that they were able to create from the ground up.”
The design of the renovation was conceived to better accommodate existing clients while expanding capabilities for trade shows and bringing additional event-hosting flexibility.
“It allows us to go after different kinds of events — the regional and national associations, some of the larger business conferences, because it’s all steps away from our 102,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall,” Teel said. “It allows us to kind of keep everything in one part of the building, which is an important element for a lot of conferences these days.”
The CBCC has been open and active for nearly two months, Teel said.
“We had a film crew come through that was here for about seven weeks,” she said. “They were filming a movie (“Ida Red,” starring Josh Hartnett, Frank Grillo and Melissa Leo) in different parts of Tulsa, and so they used part of our exhibit hall as like a soundstage, and for some of the areas where they couldn’t find an actual location in Tulsa they built the sets in our exhibit hall and we did the catering for them.”
The action-thriller, one of more than 40 films now being made in Oklahoma, was written and directed by Tulsan John Swab, according to Teel, who came to the facility in January 2019.
The center also hosted a Tulsa Housing Authority event in mid-September, and the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra was poised to use the facility for physically distanced rehearsals. A regional cornhole tournament was due to come in, Teel said, explaining that sports like dance and cheer competitions and wrestling — not the WWE kind — continue to be a big part of the facility’s event mix.
Two local companies — Usborne Books & More and SeneGence International — bring their annual conferences to the center, Teel said.
“They truly do love Tulsa so much and they want to make sure that they highlight their hometown,” she said.
Those companies and other existing clients will get to experience “a different kind of space than they are used to seeing,” Teel said. “They’ve all lived and breathed the renovation along with the team here at the building and I think they are just excited to see it complete and to see how they can use it to maximize their event attendees. It allows them to reimagine their event in the space.
“There’s so much pride here in Tulsa. It’s one thing that I really noticed within the first four hours that I was here for my interview. Tulsa loves Tulsa like Texas loves Texas, and I think a lot of our existing clients are excited to show the space off to their attendees.”