COLUMBUS (WCMH) — One of Central Ohio’s biggest economic engines is hoping new technology will encourage a safe return to large, live events. A $700,000 investment of CARES ACT funding from Franklin County and the City of Columbus is paying for extensive safety upgrades at the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC).

“There’s a lot of different industries that are impacted when the Convention center is up and running full tilt and we can’t wait to get back to that point,” said Ryan Thorpe, the assistant general manager at GCCC.

Thorpe explained the rippling economic impact from conventions for vendors, workers, hotels and nearby businesses typically amounts to $7.2 billion. In March GCCC became one of the first to feel pandemic effects when the state barred spectators from the Arnold Sports Festival.

In 10 months following the cancelled expo, many of the 350 shows, conventions and live events scheduled within the year, most cancelled or postponed.

“The biggest thing that show organizers need is certainty. And there just hasn’t been any of that during the pandemic,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe hopes greater availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will ease restrictions on gatherings by the second half of the year.

In anticipation of welcoming back crowds, GCCC has been investing in new technology. As soon as guests enter the building, they will be directed through new metal directors outfitted with heat sensors which will monitor each person’s body temperature.

The building also upgraded its HVAC system with HEPA air filters and increased air flow in all of the elevators. Portable units will be added to rooms during events to further circulate air.

GCCC is also paying special attention to one of the highest touch surfaces. Handrails on each of the building’s 21 escalators are being outfitted with ultraviolet lights, which clean and sanitize the rail continuously.

“It’s been a lot of time on the CDC website, understanding how the pandemic is evolving and how we need to respond to that to make people feel comfortable about coming back to live events,” Thorpe said of the upgrade process.

The Convention Center has been able to host smaller scale events with 250 or fewer people. The facility has offered its vast spaces to the Franklin County court system for daily hearings and it has also reserved space for Central Ohio hospitals in the event they run out of beds.

“That space is still sitting there. It could accommodate a hospital. It could accommodate a vaccine area where people drive in, get their vaccine and drive out,” Thorpe said. “The city and the county are well-aware of our capabilities. And we’re always talking to them — ‘Hey, we’re here if you need us.’”

Thorpe said GCCC’s greatest role is as an economic driver when it’s operating at full capacity. He hopes the safety upgrades the facility is currently making will reassure customers and eventually help the local economy rebound.

He said, “Really that’s what it’s about is making sure we’re ready for that day when those folks can come back to the Convention Center, come back to Columbus and we’re bringing those dollars back into the economy.”

GCCC recently achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) cleaning accreditation. Accreditation certifies a facility is following a strict cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention program.

You can read the Convention Center’s full reactivation plan by clicking here.