Convention central

“The future is now. All that we can conceive of the future is now so that tomorrow is really today.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright

MADISON, Wis.—Lovely curves in all the right places, panoramic lake views through three-story-tall windows and 352,000 square feet of room for conventions, meetings and banquets. Friendly staff. Soothing interior design. The structure as art.

On June 14, the National Mayors Conference will be held here at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on the shores of Lake Monona, two blocks from the state capitol of this Midwestern state. The center, designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938, was completed in 1997. Its spectacular exterior is matched by attention to detail in the interior. Cherry doors. Carpet designed by architects to incorporate the lines, circles, arches and curved intersections of the building itself and 18 chandeliers, crafted from plexiglass and neon and designed by one of Wright’s apprentices. Even the comfortable, rounded burgundy chairs seem a natural part of the pleasing whole.

The RN&R paid for my plane ticket here to preview what Mayor Jeff Griffin and other influential political leaders might experience at the annual conference. OK, I’m lying. Madison hosted the 25th annual convention for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies last weekend. The event gave me a chance to learn why media audits should not be used to guide editorial content—and to check out the competition.

Reno wants to be convention headquarters to the world, and it pursues that goal for a good reason—future survival. So we build and build and borrow and build. But Reno doesn’t have any kind of convention franchise. Other cities, such as Phoenix and Madison, covet a piece of the pie. And they’re willing to build and borrow and build, too.

The results? The Monona Terrace is a far cry from Reno’s sprawling, newly renovated convention rectangle on South Virginia Street, with its Costco-esque exterior and its careful architectural nods to such surrounding landmarks as the Liberty Belle Restaurant. (What finesse. What skillful planning.) We’d better hope designers can do better tacking exhibit halls onto the National Bowling Stadium. Think of Nevada Museum of Art’s planned digs. See if architect Will Bruder’ll come back to town. Our future may depend on something like this.

Madison’s downtown isn’t exactly thriving. But while snacking on some Himalayan food and drinking Indian beer at a sidewalk cafe on State Street (Madison’s downtown arts and culture district), I couldn’t help but notice the throngs of people milling about.

Sure, Madison doesn’t have any slot machines within a 45-mile radius or so. (Yet.) But Monona Terrace does have a bike elevator. I rode with two bicyclists on an elevator designed to take bikers from street level to the level of the lake, where a wide, laned bike highway wraps around the convention building.

"We don’t have bike elevators in Reno," I confessed to one cyclist who’d coasted into the elevator and sat astride his bike on the trek down two levels. "That’s why I’m not in Reno," he replied as the elevator hit the lake level. He pedalled off along the curved bike path and into the future.