New Lynnwood Convention Center manager knows the place well

Sara Blayne came on board the Lynnwood Convention Center as its marketing director when the facility opened in 2005.

As the center quietly celebrates its 10-year anniversary, she’s back — this time as the general manager.

Blayne, who returned as director of sales and marketing in November 2014, was appointed to the manager position in April. While the convention center is owned by the city of Lynnwood, Blayne works for SMG, the company that is contracted to operate the center.

She takes charge of a convention center that has been on the upswing. The center has hosted 4,133 events with 753,096 guests since it opened in April 2005. Most convention centers require a subsidy to operate, but the Lynnwood Convention Center made enough from events to eliminate the need for a subsidy in 2013 and 2014.

The Convention Center has been successful for a number of reasons, said Grant Dull, the executive director of the Lynnwood Public Facilities District. First, the group has taken a “visionary, yet financially conservative approach to planning” from Day One. The convention center has relied on in-house food service including a chef and sous chef that have been with the center since it started. And the convention center is in an ideal location, easily accessible from throughout the region and close to 1,400 hotel rooms.

Blayne previously held a similar position with Compass Group, managing internal events for Microsoft. Before that she worked for hotels in the United States and abroad.

“Hospitality is one industry that’s worldwide,” Blayne said.

The global nature of the business appealed to Blayne, who was raised overseas. Although she’s lived mostly in Asia, she also lived in Europe and the Middle East.

“I lived in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, back when it was still a Communist country behind the Iron Curtain,” Blayne said. “Europe in the ‘80s was interesting — even though the U.S. hadn’t experienced it yet, there was still some terror stuff there.”

Blayne graduated from high school in Egypt during the first Gulf War, then earned a degree in hotel management from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland.

She worked overseas for a while, then came back stateside and eventually moved to the Seattle area. She has family in the area and often visited when she was a kid.

“If there was any place that would be home, this would be it,” Blayne said. “This is what I consider my hometown.”

While at her family’s home in Kingston, Blayne used to see the cruise ships travel up and down Puget Sound and thought it would be fun to work on one of those ships.

“Then I realized that reality was not like ‘The Love Boat,’” she said, referring to the TV show. “Not everybody gets to be on the upper deck.”

She went to work in hotels instead, eventually managing events for Microsoft.

As general manager of the Lynnwood Convention Center, Blayne wants to provide a great service and experience to the center’s guests. “We’ve gone beyond what was the original expectation of this building and I want to make sure we keep that momentum,” Blayne said.

Keeping the center’s repeat clientele is important to Blayne, but she also hopes to build on the center’s success by bringing in more local and regional conventions.

“It’s important to keep the community engaged because they’re the people who support us at the end of the day,” she said.

Blayne is also excited about Lynnwood’s new City Center project and how the area surrounding the convention center will be developed.

“Seeing how the area continues to evolve will help us drive a certain direction as well,” she said. “It’ll be fun to see the new refreshed Lynnwood.”

If you go

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the Lynnwood Convention Center is hosting an open house and artist reception from 6-8 p.m. on Sept. 22.

The free event will feature live entertainment, hors d’oeuvres and refreshments, including no host beer and wine.

The art exhibit features local artists from Snohomish and King counties, including Laura Ackerman, Jack Gunter, Cheri O’Brien, Steve Salget, Terri Shinn, Ron Simmons, Josey Wise and Adam Yaw.

The open house and reception is open to the public.

For more information or to RSVP, call 425-778-7155 or email info@lynnwoodcc.com.

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