by Julia M. Johnson
The lately-renovated Kansas City Marriott Downtown Hotel has two key things on its side – tradition and technology. And thanks to a staff of on-site audio-visual and event production aficionados, those two concepts don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another.
Andrew Hoag is director of event technology for PSAV, a Chicago-based audio-visual and production firm whose KC office is inside the 983-room Marriott – which includes a century-old tower formerly known as the Muehlebach Hotel. He says the venue is out in front of a trend to attract event business by housing top-of-the-line technology services under a hotel’s own roof. As part of its recent renovation, the hotel has transformed itself into a meeting technology hub, overseen by specialized PSAV staff. That’s a major plus for planners, who used to have to secure a hotel space and then search for an outside tech service provider.
MM&E spoke with Hoag to find out how these developments at the Marriott preserve history while making event planning state-of-the-art.
MM&E: How have renovations at the Marriott – and the Muehlebach tower – impacted audio-visual technology there?
Hoag: Basically, these will be “brand new” properties by the end of next year (2016)… meeting spaces, public areas, hotel room floors. One area where the technology got updated is the infrastructure itself, including power, Internet, rigging, and related capabilities. There’s now a full rigging point grid in the Imperial Ballroom – structural supports that allow you to hang things such as speakers and screens from the ceiling.
We upgraded the weight capacity of each point, and replaced hardware. Now, 10 feet in every direction, there is a grid, with points in the ceiling that can hold 2,000 lbs.
This is a game changer. We’re not using nearly as much floor space for equipment, so it greatly increases the number of guests we can put in the room. We just hosted a lunch in the Imperial Ballroom for 1,300 people; we couldn’t have done that many before because of screens, projectors, speakers and other equipment on the floor. Now we can put it all “in the air.”
The Internet is also an area with important updates. We have $250,000 worth of newly installed access points, plus managed switches and custom configuration options. For example, rather than your guests connecting to one wireless network with the hotel’s name on it, you can customize a network to your organization or event. We offer high levels of data safety too.
There’s a group coming next week with high security concerns over sensitive financial information; we can accommodate that with our new system. We also recently did a nonprofit charity event with an Internet auction. Rather than clipboards at tables, they had a mobile app, and we had the bandwidth and branding capabilities they needed. Everyone walked in with their smartphones and did their secure bidding from their pockets.
They needed data confidentiality too, because of credit card and financial information.
MM&E: What other technology upgrades were needed?
Hoag: Besides the infrastructure, there is also our rental inventory; we’ve upgraded those offerings too. There’s a big push for things like HD (high definition) video and digital microphone technology. You want to standardize the experience people have when they travel across the country and use your hotels in different markets. We want groups to have the same level of technology quality and confidence whether they’re with us in Chicago or Kansas City.
MM&E: What kind of expertise do your in-house audio- visual and technology experts have?
Hoag: In August of last year, things really came to a head. We realized we needed to make changes, so I relocated here. Through the end of last year, we built a new team, and have become subject matter experts on this for our partner hotels in the city. We have experts in each field: Lighting designer, sound engineers, video content editor, network and Internet specialist. The idea is, when a group comes to us with special needs, we have the exact person to “plug into” that role – we’re not forcing a general A/V technician to do the job of a specialist.
So you don’t have to go outside to get services that bring your event production to the next level. In-house tools and technologies are so good now that there are no longer separate processes to find a space and then locate an outside audio-visual provider. In A/V technology, the line between venue and vendor is becoming blurred.
MM&E: How do you make high-tech changes in a historic property like the Muehlebach tower, but also preserve its character?
Hoag: It was a challenge for the designers completing the renovation project. They didn’t want it to feel like a brand new hotel; they wanted guests to remember it’s been there 100 years. People go there because of the history; it’s got a level of pizzazz you can’t get elsewhere. So we incorporated audio, lighting, and video technology without ruining the atmosphere.Often, you’re “hiding” things in walls and floors, making sure the equipment isn’t visible but the desired effect is.
The types of groups that hold large events with us are not looking for a cookie-cutter solution; they want something customized. For large groups, we’re often planning those details six or nine months ahead of time.
When you’re helping a group create a concept, it’s a different experience every day. People want to have a corporate meeting at a hotel, without it feeling like a corporate meeting at a hotel.
Kansas City Marriott Downtown
200 W. 12th Street
Kansas City MO 64105