Making space for the Space Symposium

Behind the scenes at the symposium that’s about to swallow The Broadmoor

Two years ago, a fire in one of the outdoor display tents nearly derailed the largest non-sporting event in Colorado Springs, the annual Space Symposium.

Last year, a high-tech robot snarfed up most of The Broadmoor’s Wi-Fi bandwidth, slowing down the computers and making it difficult to show videos or displays.

But it’s all part of the show. It takes 1,600 Broadmoor workers, the 50 staff at the Space Foundation and about 200 volunteers to stage the four-day event, whose economic impact is estimated at $25 million. And that’s not counting the FBI, the Secret Service, hotel security and the Colorado Springs police.

“This is a really unique event,” said John Washko, vice president of sales and marketing at The Broadmoor, which has hosted the symposium since it began more than 25 years ago. “It’s vastly different from anything else we do — any sporting event — because of the kind of people who attend. These are engineers, aerospace leaders, government officials. It’s very different, and that’s what makes it interesting.”

This year, the 27th annual Space Symposium is scheduled for April 11-14 at The Broadmoor. A host of high-level aerospace executives from international companies such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin will be joined by VIPs from NASA, the Air Force and the U.S. Army. Four-star generals will speak, as will the heads of foreign space agencies.

The Broadmoor accommodates the security details of many of the government officials as well, said Janet Stevens, communications director for the Colorado Springs-based Space Foundation. The logistics for coordinating federal security with Colorado Springs police is one of those behind-the-scene details that few attendees notice.

“It’s really more secure than it would seem to the casual observer,” Stevens said. “We spend a lot of time with the FBI before the event, to make sure that no one should get in who isn’t supposed to.”

The rest of the details aren’t quite as complicated as pulling off a launch to the International Space Station, but the event takes a lot of advanced planning, which starts as soon as the previous symposium wraps up.

Some things are automatic: By the end of the event, the exhibit hall is already booked for the next year. The foundation notifies The Broadmoor to hold blocks of rooms for the event. And this year, the design for the posters and agenda materials is ready for the 2012 symposium.

But speakers and the actual agenda are a constant work in progress, as government officials get called back to Washington, D.C., or to other places.

“Last year, we had to take lemons and turn them to lemonade when President Obama announced two weeks before the symposium that he was going to have a space summit in Florida,” Stevens said. “We had to move quickly.”

The problem? Several key speakers would no longer be in Colorado Springs, so the agenda had to be changed. In addition, the foundation had to insert time for the president’s speech into its crowded docket, as well as create a panel to discuss the speech afterward.

“It worked out well,” Stevens said. “But we had to scramble. We usually have to do that every year, because of the caliber of people we have speaking. Sometimes their jobs call them away — to, you know, save the world.”

As the event grows, and more seminars are added and become popular, The Broadmoor has to change the stage, add seating or moving some forums to bigger halls, sometimes re-coordinating the entire event just weeks before it starts.

“We designate a single staff member to work with The Broadmoor, and this time of year, that’s all she does,” Stevens said. “We don’t need 40 staff members calling 40 people … that would end up in chaos.”

It’s mostly the little things that can be frustrating during an event the size of the symposium: computers that won’t boot up, audiovisual equipment that crashes. But The Broadmoor hotel and the foundation have been doing this for 27 years running, so the cooperation between the two makes it all look effortless.

It isn’t, as Stevens admits. For example, The Broadmoor has to coordinate a variety of banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and parties held by defense companies in conjunction with the symposium (with so many executives present, the symposium is the major networking event for the aerospace industry). That means lots of drinks, trays of food, party favors and changing room décor.

“We pretty much have our entire catering staff dedicated to the event,” said The Broadmoor’s Washko. “They’re all making sure that each of the sub-events goes off without a hitch. We have kitchens all over the property running pretty much full-steam to meet the need.”

The sheer size of the event complicates matters. Parking, for instance, is at a premium. So The Broadmoor gets creative.

“The employees park at the World Arena and are bused in,” he said. “Because we run shifts 24-seven that means we have buses running every hour, on the hour.”

The hotel rooms are sold out, so The Broadmoor needs its full roster of maids, bellboys, bartenders and waiters. Nearby hotels such as the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and the Doubletree are booked solid for the week. About 8,000 people attend the event, and the Springs only has 13,500 hotel rooms.

The symposium staff provides buses from each of the other hotels.

In recent years, as the Space Symposium has grown, The Broadmoor has become a little cramped. A full-sized copy of the X-37B — an unmanned spaceplane with a 25-foot wingspan — is taking up space outdoors. And the Dragon flight vehicle — the one that actually went into space and returned — will be housed in the parking lot of the Golden Bee.

But that’s not all. The exhibit hall now extends to outdoor tents — and into the parking garage.

“We designed the garage, below Broadmoor Hall, to have higher ceilings and different ventilation so it could be used as exhibit space, so we’re doing that this year,” Washko said. “The symposium really uses every inch of space we have.”

“We’re calling it the lower level,” Stevens said. “But it’s really the parking garage.”

“I can’t imagine a new property taking this on, how difficult they might find it,” Stevens said. “We started it at The Broadmoor, and they’ve grown with us.”

By the numbers

8,000 Conference attendees

200 Volunteers

50 Space Foundation employees

1,600 Number of Broadmoor employees needed to support the symposium

34,000 Hotel nights

100 Speakers

152 Exhibitors

1 year Advance time needed to reserve exhibit space

One Response to Making space for the Space Symposium

  1. And for 8000 visitors, we don’t want to raise the bedding tax or car rental tax…like every other SMART city…..come, C/S wake up. It’s the business people EXPENSING these type of events that can add to our coffers and shore up many of the $$ shortfalls our absurb government has caused us…

    Ken G
    March 25, 2011 at 11:51 am