Quote Unquote: Conventional Wisdom From Hawai‘i Convention Center’s Teri Orton

After working for 17 years as an executive in the hospitality industry, Teri Orton was named general manager of the Hawai‘i Convention Center in late 2013. She oversees about 80 employees and 1.1 million square feet of convention space.
Did you know? Walking the facility can take as long as two hours.
Photo: David Croxford

THIS IS a really big facility. We have 47 meeting rooms, two theaters, a little over 60,000 square feet of ballroom space and 204,000 square feet of exhibition space. It looks big from the outside, but when you get in, it’s even bigger.


WE HAVE the largest kitchen in the state, or so I’ve been told. It takes up almost half of our third floor. We just prepped 6,000 bentos the other day. I’ve never seen so much rice.


MOST OF THE TIME, unless we have a buyout of the whole building, we can have two or three different things taking place here at any given time—as long as there aren’t conflicts. We probably wouldn’t book the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the sake festival.


OUR PRIMARY PURPOSE is to feed business to the state of Hawai‘i to create more tax revenues. The more business we bring to the state and push to the hotels, the more hotel room tax is generated. If we have to comp the meeting space here just to get the group to decide to come to Hawai‘i, we will. Then we just try to cover what expenses we can through food and beverage sales. We’re not a for-profit organization, so to speak.


The Hawai‘i Convention Center cost $200 million to build, and opened in 1998.


THE UNIVERSAL SHOWQUEEN PAGEANT (a drag show) is held here annually. I got the biggest kick out of what was going on behind the scenes. It was chaotic. People were screaming at each other. There was hair and makeup and wigs and heels and dresses! It was hilarious. And as soon as they hit the stage, it’s like, they’ve got it all together. You would never know what went on backstage.


WE HAVE bird issues. They perch in the latticework outside and poop on the windows. We’ve tried several different solutions. We tried putting this hot wire out there on a track, and when the birds stepped on it, it kind of shocked them. That didn’t work. After they knew it shocked them, they just sat beside it. They’re very smart birds.


WE TRIED netting, but at first it was the bigger netting, and the smaller birds went right through. Now we’re down to really small netting. It actually works.


ON OUR ROOFTOP we have a Hawaiian indigenous garden. It’s about half an acre, with very large trees. They’re probably 25- or 30-foot trees. The root system has broken through several layers of waterproof membrane, and every time it rains it leaks. I wasn’t here when they put that in. But I gotta deal with it now. It’s a nightmare.


IN THE back of the house, most employees get around on three-wheeled bikes. When I first started here, I opted not to take a bike. I thought I’ll walk for exercise. Then I found that to walk the whole facility can take anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two hours, if I’m stopping at certain locations to kind of check on things. So I was like, get me a bike! Now, on the bike, I can zip around the whole building in 45 minutes.


I’VE PLOWED into other people’s bikes as I’ve approached their office. I’m like, Darn it! They’re like, Teri’s here.