Presto! Change-O! Denver’s Pepsi Center morphs into Democrats’ convention hall

By Stephanie Clary

The transformation of the Pepsi Center into a convention hall is well on track, according to the Democratic National Convention Committee.

“I have the great pleasure to tell you we’re ahead of schedule,” said DNCC director of technology Brook Colangelo in a July 14 media walk-through of the venue. He noted that 3,300 miles of fiber optics are in place, and more than 20 servers will soon be installed in a former sporting equipment storage area.

“In comparison to 2004, we’re three to four weeks ahead of schedule,” said Colangelo, who served as senior adviser for technology and telecommunication for the 2004 convention in Boston.

One week after the committee received the keys to the main venue of this year’s DNC, about 5,000 seats had been removed from the arena, the Avalanche hockey team’s locker room was in the process of morphing into a speech-rehearsal area, and technology infrastructure was being tested and installed.

The Pepsi Center, however, will not be the only DNC site. Barack Obama will be accepting his nomination at Invesco Field at Mile High on Aug. 28, offering him an opportunity to reach some 75,000 people — 54,000 more than the Pepsi Center holds.

Since the announcement, very few details have been released about the media, security and ticketing logistics or the cost of the move to Invesco.

Nor did Colangelo or Travis Dredd, the DNCC’s deputy CEO of inside-the-hall operations, address those issues.

Instead, they kept the focus on the results of just one week of construction at the home of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.

When asked about the status of Invesco, Colangelo said, “We are very actively working with Invesco … working through the details,” later adding that experience has taught him to “be prepared for change.”

The committee also has been working with the Denver-based Alvarado-Turner-HOK construction management team to transform the Pepsi Center.

“If I do my job right, the next time you come here, you won’t recognize it at all,” Dredd said to hardhat-wearing local reporters, as they toured the active construction site. He said every morning he asks workers, “Are we on budget? Are we on track? Are we on time?”

The answer, he said, always has been, “yes.”

He noted that the venue hasn’t undergone a total makeover quite yet, but progress has been made in several areas.

In the arena, seats were being removed in sections in order to make room for the stage, podium and TV cameras during the convention. The chairs were placed into boxes labeled with their corresponding section, row and seat numbers so they can return to their exact position when the party is over.

Many of the Pepsi Center’s hallways are lined with cable stanchions, each with four trays to hold power, data, video and audio lines for both convention operations and the media.

Colangelo said all cable would be recycled and reused after the convention. The DNCC and the Denver Host Committee have been stressing their desire to make this the greenest convention in history.

Also being set up is the data, or “nerve center” room, where the communication network for the convention is being housed. The committee announced last month it would be streaming the convention live in high definition at with the support of that network.

As the reporters tramped through, AT&T employees tested the wireless network. An estimated 15,000 members of the media will be covering the convention, and the wireless network will have to support all their laptops, BlackBerries and other electronic devices.

The Avalanche locker room is in the process of being covered in protective material. Dredd said the room will soon morph into a replica of the Pepsi Center stage and will be used as a rehearsal area.

Finally, in the arena parking lot, the largest of several pavilions is being built to serve as a workspace for the media. Metal framing now stands within the 62,500-square-foot area, and some of the exterior material is in place.

Greg McDonald, director of hall operations, said the Pepsi Center is being worked on seven days a week. Two eight-hour work shifts take up 16 hours of each 24-hour day. Starting Aug. 29, he said, construction will continue 24-seven as the Pepsi Center is returned to its original configuration.