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After a change of hands, the National Conference Center celebrates renewed vision

(From right to left) Kelley Locke with MEDCOM, DeLisa Prater with the Defense Health Agency and Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development’s Rick Morris watch their gourmet burgers being made in the National Conference Center’s fire pit patio. Times-Mirror/Anna Harris
Uncle Sam on stilts greeted participants entering the National Conference Center in Lansdowne during its June 24 anniversary celebration.

The conference center changed ownership in April 2014, and the past year has seen some changes in the facility’s vision and landscaping.

NCC PS Enterprises, LLC, which bought the National Conference Center, is the name given for the marriage between PCCP, LLC, a California-based investment firm, and Stoneleigh Capital, LLC, a Connecticut-based private equity investment company.

Before the change of hands, the conference center dealt solely with government contractors, lending space and resources for employee training, meetings and events.

Under the new management, the center has opened its arms to the wider business community for training and special events, pulling in both small and larger, national companies.

The anniversary open house was a celebration of these changes and the success of the past year.

“We’ve made so much change,” said the chief marketing officer with the center, Chuck Ocheltree. “We have eight different things that we’re showing our guests tonight that are either remodeled or new … We’re also celebrating how much has changed in the one year, a change to a fresh energized approach for taking care of our guests, focusing on being one of the nation’s top training centers. All of our clients are here for training, learning, and meetings.”

The business-focused side of the center’s endeavors sits heavily on this training. The event coordination side, including weddings and conferences, relies on their catering under the watchful eye of executive chef Chris Ferrier.

He likes the versatility that comes with cooking at the center. Rather than cooking salmon every night, he and his crew might make luau themed food one night and hamburgers the next.

The heavy guest focus included cosmetic changes, like improvements to the Black Oscar bar and the addition of the speakeasy-style bar National Secret, a fire pit and multiple lounges and patios.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Vice President and General Manager Geoff Lawson said of the additions, including entertainment venues four times a week.

The conference center reached a financial low in 2013, according to a release from the company, a low that continued until LaKota Hotels & Resorts came on board with the conference center in May last year to manage the property.

Under the new management of 2014, the center said they project a 2015 total revenue increased from 2013 numbers by 140 percent, including a 34 percent increase from 2013 to 2014, according to the release.

Usage of the conference center's resources is up from double to triple digit percentages at both of the center's locations in The National Conference Center and the West Belmont Place across business sectors.

It wasn't a drastic vision change with the new ownership that made for the dramatic change the center alleges, at least not according to Sam Haigh, chief operating officer and president of LaKota Hotels.

Expanding the pool of clientele who can use the space helped. But Ocheltree said timing played a big part.

Ownership changed on the upswing of the recession. During the financially difficult period, many companies trimmed the spending where they could, replacing in-person training programs more cost-effective remote methods.

When companies saw more financial security, they started splurging on the face-to-face training again, hoping to get an edge on competition as the market emerges from the recession more fully, Haigh said.

As a hub for hands-on training trips, The National Conference Center reaped the benefits.

“Our timing is immaculate,” Haigh said. “We like to think we’re brilliant, and in a lot of respects we are, but the timing of this thing was really important. If we had attempted this in 2009, with the same investment we made in the team and the people and furniture, fixtures, et cetera, we wouldn’t have had nearly the response that we’re seeing. So timing is important.”

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