The AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships would be the first event at the Orlando venue since March. (Courtesy Orange County Convention Center)

It would be among first major North American venue of its kind to return

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., will reopen to events July 14 when it hosts the 47th Amateur Athletic Union Junior National Volleyball Championships, putting it among the first convention centers in North America to host an event after the closures, cancellations and postponements forced by the coronavirus outbreak.

Mark Tester, OCCC executive director, laid out plans for the facility’s reopening during a meeting Wednesday of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.

The AAU has contracted for almost 1 million square feet of exhibit space over 12 days for the event, which will involve four days of competition per team.

Participants will arrive in three waves and there will be no spectators, Tester told the task force.

The event is expected to bring in 10,000 participants, chaperones and coaches, he said.

Courts and competitions will be spread out through the use of physical distancing and staggered start times, and there will be dedicated entrances and exits throughout the building. Temperature checks will be conducted by health professionals daily at designated entry points.

The event had been scheduled for mid-June but the AAU and the convention center agreed on the postponement. It allows the convention center to use its recently developed Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines, which Tester discussed during his presentation to the task force, and to obtain its Global Biorisk Advisory Council Star accreditation, which should be in place by the time the tournament begins.

Tester said the convention center will be among the first to receive GBAC Star accreditation, which involves meeting detailed guidelines and performance criteria on sanitation, disinfection and infectious disease prevention best practices. The advisory council’s parent organization is ISSA, known until 2005 as the International Sanitary Supply Association.

The convention center in the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, generated $3 billion in economic impact and drew 1.5 million event attendees to 170 events, including 119 conventions and trade shows. The pre-COVID-19 picture was shaping up for a fiscal 2020 of $2.9 billion in economic impact, 1.4 million attendees and 143 events, including 102 conventions and trade shows, Tester said.

“We were actually looking to have a very good fiscal 2019-2020,” he said, explaining that between January and March, the convention center drew 331,000 people and generated $740 million in economic impact from 35 events that included the PGA Merchandise Show; Surf Expo; International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition; and Global Pet Expo.

The first major event to fall was the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’sGlobal Health Conference and Exhibition, which canceled in early March during move-in, Tester said.

“Then the domino effect started,” said Tester, who took up his post in February, having come from the Austin (Texas) Convention Center.

The post-COVID-19 reality, however, calls for a projected $1.7 billion in economic impact, 800,000 attendees and 96 events, including 62 conventions and trade shows, Tester said.

As of June 1, the convention center had rescheduled 21 conventions with an estimated economic impact of $375 million and seen the cancellation of 32 that would have generated an estimated $738 million.

For the balance of the fiscal year, there are six events scheduled for July, 10 for August and 11 for September, Tester said.

“We also have a number of tentatives,” he said. “We’re also talking to a number of groups, and it’s such a different time. Everyone is really late in solidifying what they’re doing, but we feel very optimistic about where we’re at. Certainly, the theme parks reopening (Universal Orlando Resort on June 5 and both SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World on July 11) and our coming back as a community has really put us in a good position. As a matter of fact, optimistically speaking, I think we are in the best position of any (of the) first-tier cities.”