by Michael C. Lowe | July 01, 2012

Once primarily built to showcase their sprawling exhibit halls, today's convention centers are flexible, multipurpose complexes with plenty of breakout rooms and comfortable networking areas. They're environmentally friendly, with robust Internet connectivity and creative design elements. Here we profile eight noteworthy facilities, all in progress, newly opened or revamped.

Music City Center Nashville
May 2013

The new Music City Center will take ecology-minded facilities to a new level thanks to a 175,000-square-foot green roof covered in sedum, a short flowering plant, and designed to mimic the rolling hills of Tennessee. Rainwater that seeps through the rooftop garden will be collected in 360,000-gallon-capacity tanks, which eventually will be used to flush toilets and for landscaping purposes. The garden is just one of many sustainable practices that will help the 1.2 million-square-foot center become LEED Silver-certified when it opens next spring.

The roof won't be the only thing piquing planners' interest. The venue's 350,000 square feet of exhibit space will employ a cutting-edge design that allows columns to be fewer and farther apart, giving organizers more flexibility and exhibitors more visibility. Where other convention centers might offer exhibit halls with columns in 90- by 90-foot grids, three sections of Music City Center's exhibit hall will feature columns along a 240- by 360-foot grid, says Seab Tuck, principal with Tuck-Hinton Architects and an architect on the project. "Visitors will be able to walk into these halls and see everything," he notes.

Other spaces within the center will include a 57,000-square-foot ballroom,  an 18,000-square-foot junior ballroom and 60 meeting rooms. In all, the venue will more than double the current available meeting and exhibit space in downtown Nashville.

Just under a year from opening day, business at Music City Center already is off to a promising start with 617,151 total room nights and 71 contracts already on the books as of press time.

Cobo Convention CenterCobo Convention Center
Renovation debuts:

The Motor City's 2.4 million-square-foot Cobo Convention Center will complete a $299 million renovation just in time to host ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's annual meeting and exposition in 2015, which will be the first time the annual event comes to town.

The conference will be a good chance for officials to show off the convention center's new additions, including a three-story glass atrium linking to a new entrance that faces the Detroit River, as well as a new 40,000-square-foot ballroom that will feature floor-to-ceiling windows facing the river and open-air prefunction areas with views of downtown Detroit.

"When you came here before, you couldn't see the city anymore. There was no feel or flavor of Detroit," notes Tom Connors, general manager of the complex. "By integrating the city into the design, we're making Cobo more a part of the urban fabric."

Indeed, the center, which received its last upgrade in 1989, is part of a local renaissance, says Connors. "There are a lot of different things happening right now in Detroit: new business, new residents, urban farming, entrepreneurial activity. The transformation of Cobo is a reflection of the transformation going on downtown."

The renovation is adding a total of 150,000 square feet of function space, including 25,000 square feet for meetings and 22,500 square feet for exhibitions, and is expected to be LEED-certified. The center offers free Wi-Fi throughout.