Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Keep the Steinbeck Forum

The ball has started rolling on a major remodeling of the Monterey Conference Center. The project is still in its initial stages, with nothing set in stone, but it has received the official blessing of the Monterey city council.

I don't have any strong feelings about the project in general, but one specific proposal has me disturbed. A consultant has recommended that the center's Steinbeck Forum, a 494 seat theater-style lecture hall, be eliminated and replaced with a plain, flat, empty room with four walls just like every other room in the conference facility.

Bad idea.

The Steinbeck Forum is unique among local conference venues. For starters, it's very comfortable, having permanent theater-style seating instead of the firm and tiny portable chairs used elsewhere in the conference center. Also, because the seating area is raked at a fairly steep angle, each row of seats is much higher than the one in front, making for unobstructed sightlines and excellent views from every seat. Contrast this with conventional meeting rooms where every chair is on the same flat surface. In such rooms, everyone's head is at the same level, so views are often blocked by the people sitting in front of you. The Steinbeck Forum also has an ample stage suitable for lectures, panel discussions, films, musical bands, and other forms of popular entertainment, plus a complete control booth for sound, lighting, and video technicians.

But the consultants say it's not versatile enough. A plain flat room, they say, can do more things. Well, true enough. You can't, for example, hold a roundtable discussion or a high school prom in a theater. But for reasons already stated, a flat room can't necessarily do everything well. A well-rounded conference center requires a variety of venue styles to best meet the diverse needs of different types of events. One size or shape does not fit all.

Furthermore, flat conference rooms are a dime a dozen on the Monterey Peninsula. The conference center already has several, as do the adjoining Portola Hotel and neighboring Marriott. In fact, every major hotel from Seaside to Pebble Beach has several of them. One more isn't going to make Monterey more marketable as a conference destination. 

On the other hand, having a unique, very comfortable venue in the conference center gives it an advantage over other conference facilities on The Peninsula. Let's not eliminate that advantage.

The Steinbeck Forum was done right. It's a wonderful venue. Don't mess with it!

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