How Urban Expansion & Renewal Deliver Event Excellence

Five meeting attendees dressed in casual summer clothes sit at a bar with columns behind them, and a Phoenix desert vista beyond.

Skift Take

Urban expansion presents a golden opportunity for smart city planning that benefits both events and the local community. Find out how Phoenix has become a shining example of urban renewal with its updated transportation infrastructure, new research hubs, high-tech manufacturing, and collaborative sustainability initiatives.

This content was created collaboratively by Visit Phoenix and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Rapid urban expansion presents great opportunities — not least for event organizers — but this kind of accelerated growth needs to be managed well to ensure the best possible destination experience. In the twenty-first century, urban planners can take advantage of smart city development, leveraging technology and intentional design to bolster everything from sustainability to economic resilience. To understand how these benefits spill over into events, we need look no further than Phoenix, Arizona.

Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the U.S., and among those top five urban centers it is also the fastest growing. By innovating with a digital twin for smart city planning, investing in infrastructure, welcoming manufacturing, and committing to sustainability, the city has been able to attract visitors from around the world. For event planners, these broad innovations make Phoenix a vibrant and incredibly well-resourced destination for large-scale meetings, conventions, and more.

Academic experts, thought leaders of industry, and cutting-edge doctors and scientists have come to call Phoenix home, thanks to the city’s smart urban planning and renewal efforts amidst rapid expansion. Cross-disciplinary collaborations at world-class venues throughout the city put those expert thinkers within reach for meeting planners that want to take advantage of the local braintrust. And deep community connections empower hosts to give back and bring their companies’ core values and corporate social responsibility initiatives to life in the real world.

Here’s how Phoenix is building a bustling home for future-focused events that benefit visitors and give back to local communities at the same time.

Smart Urban Planning for Visitors: Easy Navigation & Vibrant City Center

Increasingly, meeting attendees seek out a full destination experience when they travel to an event. According to a recent state of travel report from the Global Business Travel Association and Uber for Business, 93 percent of business travelers look for bleisure travel opportunities. Ideally, the city experience should be memorable, but the process of getting there — and getting around — should be smooth and uneventful.

To help ensure that it’s remembered for all the right reasons, Greater Phoenix has invested $1.2 billion in upgrading Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and over $5 billion in the downtown Phoenix corridor. These upgrades are already drawing attention, with the Wall Street Journal naming Phoenix Sky Harbor the best airport in the U.S. for 2023.

Whether using the city’s state-of-the-art Metro Valley Rail, hopping into a self-driving car through the Waymo service, or traveling by foot, attendees will have no trouble navigating the compact, highly walkable downtown area. The Phoenix Convention Center, which the Wall Street Journal recently ranked among the country’s top 10 convention centers, is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The city’s wealth of newly opened and recently renovated hotels means that accommodations are never far away, either.

A man and a woman ride electric scooters in downtown Phoenix.

Of course, it’s equally important that attendees have plenty to do — and eat. Among the travelers surveyed for the 2023 Global Travel Trends Report by American Express, 81 percent said that trying local foods and cuisines is what they look forward to most from their trips. For its part, Phoenix has witnessed a recent boom in its diverse culinary scene thanks to its widespread renewal efforts, with top food critics crowning Chris Bianco’s namesake restaurant as one of the best pizzerias in the world. As further acclaim, Bianco won the 2022 James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurateur — with a total of 11 Phoenix establishments making the semifinalist cut for that year. The momentum continues with another seven semifinalists in 2023.

Innovative Urban Development: The Phoenix Bioscience Core

When it comes to getting the most out of the meeting agenda itself, event organizers benefit from a headstart when they choose a destination that leads the world in research and development.

The Phoenix Bioscience Core (PBC) is a shining example of what smart urban redevelopment can do to foster a culture of innovation. A 30-acre medical and scientific campus, the PBC boasts over six million square feet of academic and clinical space. With multiple prestigious tenants clustered around the center, the PBC boasts the highest concentration of researchers in the region. And it’s no accident that the facility is located adjacent to the Phoenix Convention Center and within reach of over 4,000 first-class hotel choices.

Canyon on Third allows organizers to transform outdoor real estate into an event space at the foot of the Phoenix Convention Center, all within walking distance of the Phoenix Bioscience Core.

The PBC’s success is in large part thanks to the collaboration of local universities like Arizona State University (ranked the most innovative university by the US News & World Report for the ninth year in a row), Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona. Together, they ensure state-of-the-art facilities fit for leading medical group gatherings:

  • The American College of Chest Physicians will use PBC’s simulation center to offer hands-on learning to hundreds of clinicians.
  • The American Telemedicine Association will leverage PBC’s telehealth training institute to deliver innovative remote healthcare solutions for local tribal communities.
  • The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer will host its 2026 convention at the University of Arizona’s Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies, a world-leading research hub and recent addition to the PBC’s prestigious institutions.
  • The American Society of Microbiology hosted its annual Biomedical Conference for Minority Students at the PBC this year to advance STEM fields, from high school through the post-graduate level.

Hosting these prestigious and large-scale events at the PBC doesn’t just validate the strength of Phoenix as an event destination; it also gives organizations an opportunity to get involved with local communities. Whether by exposing underrepresented student groups to STEM fields or solving complex real-world healthcare challenges, the PBC is a springboard for the leading scientists, inventors, and doctors of tomorrow.

“We’ve evolved beyond the old adage of just heads in beds,” said Edwards. “These events are legacy-building and can make a difference in our community. So much of what is being researched, discovered and developed can have a far-reaching impact right here in our community.”

Another good example of taking educational opportunities into the community comes thanks to the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. Organizers plan to address care and interventions for diverse individuals and tribal populations at their upcoming convention through a partnership with the Phoenix Indian Medical Center and Indian Health Services.

Arizona is home to 22 different Tribal Nations, and long-run NIH statistics show that diabetes impacts indigenous communities at the highest rate in the world. Events like this take advantage of the PCB’s cutting-edge facilities and renowned personnel, while also creating hands-on opportunities to do important work on the ground.

Urban Expansion: Becoming a Manufacturing Haven

To ensure maximum ROI for business events, it pays to choose a host city at the forefront of industry.

Phoenix has been hailed as the future epicenter of chip manufacturing in the United States. Industry leaders like Taiwan Semiconductor, Intel, and On-Semi have invested billions of dollars to lay the groundwork for that future. Along with the city’s Economic Council, Commerce Authority, and other local partners, federal and state governments alike have offered their support for this industrial expansion.

It’s no surprise then that SemiCon West, a 10,000-person convention centered around semiconductors and chip technology, has entered into a multi-year long-term agreement with downtown Phoenix. The IEEE Microwave Symposium and other STEM-related conventions have followed suit, as leaders in the space see the value in visiting the United States’ up-and-coming chip manufacturing hub.

Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers like Tesla, Rivian, Lucid, and Polestar have also established offices and manufacturing plants in Greater Phoenix. The city has already approved a plan to install 500 charging stations and convert some city vehicles to EVs; the goal is to have 280,000 EVs on Phoenix streets by 2030. Global spectator events heeded the call, and conversations are underway with organizations like Formula E to spotlight the ways Phoenix is leading the conversation around the expanding EV industry, chip manufacturing, and sustainability.

Urban Renewal: Sustainability Where It Counts

Last but not least, sustainability will continue to be a growing priority in the coming years, and smart urban planning will be key to responsible urban renewal — both for events and the wider community.

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword in Phoenix. Everything from heat mitigation to water conservation is ripe for innovation as Phoenix attempts to become a fully sustainable desert city by 2025. Over the past seven years alone, Phoenix has invested over $700 million in sustainability projects including:

  • $25 million in a biogas facility
  • $15 million in a state-of-the-art compost facility
  • $18 million in hydrogen and electric buses
  • $30 million LED streetlight project

Phoenix has set an ambitious 2030 deadline to cut its carbon emissions by 50 percent, with the ultimate goal of reaching net zero by 2050. In unison with the city, the Phoenix Convention Center is taking a multi-pronged approach to sustainability — recycling over 460 tons every year and earning both an IACC Green Certification and LEED Silver Certification for environmentally-friendly construction.

Industry and Events Join Forces for a Sustainable Future

Innovation around sustainability is another draw for event organizers, especially those in industries actively aiming to modernize and solve pressing issues for the environment and workforce alike. For example, it’s often said that golf lives in Phoenix; the area boasts more than 200 golf courses and is home to many golf legends. Amazing year-round weather, breathtaking vistas, and iconic Sonoran desert sunrises and sunsets draw countless golf conventions and competitions, including the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the PGA Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and LPGA tournaments.

But golf course maintenance is traditionally incredibly water-intensive, which puts a strain on sustainability goals. These concerns are top of mind for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, which will bring more than 15,000 golf industry professionals to Greater Phoenix in early 2024. The event will serve as an opportunity to spotlight groundbreaking innovations around water conservation and reclamation methods that will make the great game more sustainable.

“Our President and CEO sits on the board of Arizona Alliance for Golf, and the CEO of PING (headquartered right here in Phoenix) serves on our Board,” said Edwards. “Having the right voices at the table engaging in thoughtful discussions alongside industry innovators and policy makers is essential to protecting the long term viability of this industry from an environmental and economic standpoint.”

Phoenix has worked hard to drive its rapid growth with intention and strategy, giving visitors access to best-in-class facilities, amenities, and thinkers. With a commitment to sustainable urban renewal underlying it all, Phoenix is a world-class destination for events of all sizes.

To learn more about everything that Phoenix has to offer, reach out to the experts at Visit Phoenix.

This content was created collaboratively by Visit Phoenix and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.