Tag Archives: debbie cotton

Debbie Cotton - 50 Most Influential Women in AZ Business

Debbie Cotton – 50 Most Influential Women in Arizona Business

Debbie CottonInterim director, Phoenix Convention Center

Cotton oversees daily operations of the Phoenix Convention Center, Executive Conference Center, Orpheum Theatre, Symphony Hall and five parking garages. She manages a staff of 240 employees, a budget of $47.5 million, and is the city’s chief representative to the state’s tourism and hospitality industry.

Surprising fact: “I have a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science from Western Illinois University and began my career working for Xerox Corporation.”

Biggest challenge: “Stepping up to manage the Phoenix Convention Center in the midst of a global economic crisis that greatly impacted the hospitality industry. Not only did I have to deal with the effects of the economic crisis, but I had to quickly learn about an industry that was new to me.”

Fifty Most Influential Women in Arizona Business – Every year in its July/August issue Arizona Business Magazine features 50 women who make an impact on Arizona business. To see the full list, read the digital issue >>

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, second from left, joined city leaders March 14 at the American Animal Hospital Association’s annual conference to celebrate the millionth delegate to visit the Phoenix Convention Center since its $650 million expansion in January 2009. The millionth delegate, veterinarian Monique Weldon of Aurora, Colo., accepted a donation in her honor to the Rescue Operation for the Animals of the Reservation (ROAR). Pictured from left are Phoenix Convention Center Director Debbie Cotton, Mayor Stanton, AHAA President Mark Russak, ROAR spokeswoman Helen Oliff, Greater Phoenix CVB President Steve Moore, Weldon, and Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos.

Convention Center welcomes millionth delegate

A huge milestone at the Phoenix Convention Center arrived last week in the form of a petite veterinarian from Colorado.

Dr. Monique Weldon, owner of Loving Family Animal Hospital in Aurora, Colo., was the one millionth delegate to visit the Phoenix Convention Center since it emerged four years ago from a $600 million expansion.

Weldon, a veterinary professional in town for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) annual conference, was honored by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and City Manager David Cavazos in the convention center’s palatial North Ballroom during the AAHA’s May 14 opening general session. Phoenix Convention Center Director Debbie Cotton and Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau President Steve Moore also participated in the celebration.

“One million delegates is a testament to the drawing power of our city, our airport, our remade downtown, and this beautiful convention center,” Mayor Stanton said.

Cavazos pointed out that one million convention delegates visiting downtown Phoenix equates to nearly $1.5 billion in estimated spending for Phoenix’s economy.

The Phoenix Convention Center welcomed its first convention attendees in January 2009. With a glass-and-stone design inspired by the turquoise waters and red rock of the Grand Canyon, the convention center boasts nearly 900,000 square feet of exhibition and meeting space.

Mayor Stanton characterized the new convention center as a game changer, and called attention to several other developments that either dove-tailed with the facility’s construction or followed in its wake:

* METRO Light Rail began operation with 20 miles of line and 32 stations
* More than 60 new restaurants have opened downtown
* Every major hotel in downtown Phoenix is either completely new or has undergone multimillion-dollar renovations.
* CityScape was built, adding 2 blocks of new dining and entertainment options within a short stroll of the convention center’s doors.

On a more whimsical note, in the four years since expansion was completed, the convention center’s catering staff has served nearly 400,000 chicken breasts and 68,000 gallons of Starbucks coffee.

In addition to honoring Dr. Weldon with an array of gifts that included a return visit to Phoenix, representatives from the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau and three downtown hotels—the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, Renaissance Phoenix Downtown and Sheraton Phoenix Downtown—donated $1,000 to the Phoenix branch of AAHA’s charity of choice, the Rescue Operation for the Animals of the Reservation (ROAR).

The AAHA matched that donation to ROAR, and another $2,500 was given to the group’s cause by BlogPaws, a collection of bloggers who write about pet-care information.

ROAR is a nonprofit that provides food, shelter and medical care to dogs and cats rescued from American Indian reservations. According to the organization’s website, extreme poverty and limited access to medical care lead to tens of thousands of animals being orphaned on Indian reservations each year; there are at least 1,500 stray dogs and cats roaming the Navajo Nation alone.

On hand Thursday to help ROAR accept the donations was Lucy, a German Shepherd mix who was found in a roadside cardboard box in a New Mexico pueblo. Lucy now lives in a mountainside home in South Phoenix, where she enjoys daily walks and swims in a backyard pool.

Phoenix Convention Center

Conventional Wisdom – Catering To Phoenix Visitors

Debbie Cotton has gone from helping people travel around Phoenix to trying to convince people to travel to Phoenix.

Cotton, the former director of the Phoenix Public Transit Department, is about six months into her role as director for the Phoenix Convention Center.

“The biggest difference for me is that each day is very different,” says Cotton, who replaced John Chan, who became community and economic development director for the City of Phoenix. “Each customer of the Convention Center has their own set of individual needs, so we have to come in here and reinvent ourselves every day so that we can fulfill our clients’ needs.”

Catering to convention-goers’ needs are more important than ever. To compound the hit that the economic downturn placed on the convention industry, Arizona’s tough stance on illegal immigration has put the state in a negative light in some decision-makers’ eyes, and an incident where a lesbian couple was asked to leave a downtown restaurant ignited a social media firestorm.

“People are very aware of some of the social unrest we’ve had in the community,” Cotton says. “That is one of the things that people have questions about when we talk with them about coming to Phoenix.”

If you look at the numbers, the controversies don’t seem to have an impact on tourism’s bottom line. A report from Dean Runyan Associates shows that gross sales at state hotels have increased more than 12 percent since 2010, and travel spending in Arizona has increased 7.9 percent since 2009. Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 — the strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent history — into law in 2010.

“In the next five years, we will have 900,000 delegates come through the Convention Center doors with an economic impact of $1.3 billion,” Cotton says. “That is a slight increase from the previous five years.”

A $600 million expansion project that tripled the size of the Convention Center and was completed in 2009 has raised the profile of both the center and the convention industry in Phoenix. In 2010, the Convention Center received the Inner Circle Award from Association Meetings Magazine, which ranked the facility as one of the 15 best Convention Centers in the nation for service excellence. And in April, the Phoenix Convention Center was ranked seventh among the best U.S. convention centers by Business Review USA.

“The addition of ASU and CityScape have given downtown more vibrancy and a youthful exuberance that has really made a difference for visitors,” Cotton says. “People want to play and have fun here. We need more of that.”

To get the Convention Center to the next level, Cotton and her staff plan to launch a redesigned website and use social media — Twitter and Facebook — to engage their customers and increase their speed to market.

“One of the things that we’ve found creates a more dynamic experience for visitors are the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors,” Cotton says of the orange-shirt-wearing, information-wielding walking concierges of downtown. “We want to get them more involved on the front end so that we differentiate ourselves from other communities. Once we get them here, we know they will come back.”

To help fill some of the vacancies the Convention Center has on the books, Cotton instituted a sales training program that will complement the comprehensive guest experience training that the staff has undergone since the center was expanded.

“We have been so busy over the last few years with our growth, that we didn’t have time to slow down and focus on some of the finer details,” Cotton says. “Now that things have slowed down and our expansion is complete, we have more time to incorporate training, build leads and close deals. Now it’s time for us to become the best of the best.”

For more information on the Phoenix Convention Center, visit the Phoenix Convention Center’s website at phoenix.gov/phxpccd.html.