Gaining Ground

A look at the latest expansions here and abroad

Get used to the sound of jackhammers. A number of cities across North America have cast aside any concerns about overbuilding and are investing many millions of dollars in renovating and expanding their convention facilities. The following is a state-by-state rundown of recent activity.

Alaska

Anchorage broke ground on an expansion of the William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center (907-263-2800; www.egancenter.com) this April. When work is finished around spring 2009, the $103 million facility will offer meeting space for groups of up to 5,000 people. New features will include canopies, better lighting, protected vestibule entrances and heated sidewalks lined with trees. The sidewalks will link the expanded facility to the Alaska Performing Arts Center.

Arizona

The Phoenix Civic Plaza has been renamed the Phoenix Convention Center (800-282-4842; www.phoenixconventioncenter.com). A $600 million project, to finish in 2009, will increase exhibit space at the center from 302,000 square feet to 872,000. The new West Conference Center, with 156,000 square feet of exhibit space, including a 62,000-square-foot exhibition hall and 32 meeting rooms, opens this month. The rest of the project involves demolishing the current North Building and replacing it with a four-story facility.

California

The Pasadena Conference Center (626-793-2122; www.pasadenacal.com/faciliti.htm) is gearing up for the first phase of an expansion that will include the implosion of Mishima Plaza to make way for a new 60,000-square-foot ballroom. A second phase adds a 160,768-square-foot exhib-it hall, while the final phase will renovate an existing conference center. Also in the works is a restoration of the Civic Auditorium lobby and transformation of the ice rink into another ballroom.

Halfway up the coast, the Santa Clara Convention Center (408-748-7000; www.santaclara.org/conventioncenter) has spent $100,000 to add a new dividing wall to its 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall. The center also will expand its exhibit space by 24,000 square feet by June 2008.

Florida

A $63 million expansion of Daytona Beach’s Ocean Center Convention & Entertainment Complex (800-858-6444; www.oceancenter.com) is in blueprints. Work started this April, but construction is likely to be delayed due to various issues concerning the bidding process. The city remains confident the enlarged facility will debut in 2007. Plans call for exhibit space to be doubled to approximately 100,000 square feet, while meeting rooms will number 22. The existing facility has a 46,000-square-foot arena for sports and concerts, while across the road on the beach is the affiliated, expanded Ocean Walk Village, with 1,300 guest rooms and 200,000 square feet of meeting space.

In West Palm Beach, the $84 million, 350,000-square-foot Palm Beach County Convention Center (800-833-5733; www.palmbeachfl.com/conventioncenter) opened in January 2004. The facility has 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 23,000 square feet of meeting space. Coming soon: Westin will manage a 400-room headquarters property, to open in early 2008 with a spa and a ballroom of its own.

CANADA RISING
Vancouver Convention & Exhibition CentreChanges north of the border include a major expansion at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre (604-689-8232; www.vanconex.com), which will triple its event capacity by autumn 2008, making the venue fully functional for the 2010 Winter Olympics. As part of the project, the center’s exhibit, meeting and ballroom capacities will grow from 40,682 to a total 157,050 square feet. Work includes the construction of new facilities on the Burrard Landing Site, west of Canada Place; the renovation of existing leased space within Canada Place; and the linking of the two sites to form an integrated convention and exhibition center.

Currently, the center offers more than 150,000 square feet of flexible function space, including 91,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space, a 16,600-square-foot ballroom and 20 meeting rooms. The venue has 55 events booked into the new space between its opening and 2018.

In Toronto, the million-square-foot Direct Energy Centre (416-263-3000; www.ntc.on.ca), formerly the National Trade Centre, will add a new hotel and a 75,000-square-foot conference facility to be connected via a pedestrian link. The conference venue is scheduled for a spring 2007 opening. -- B.D.

Illinois

Already one of the largest convention centers in the world, Chicago’s vast McCormick Place (312-791-7000; www.mccormickplace.com), which now offers 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space and 112 meeting rooms, is set to enlarge once again. To open in late 2007, the new McCormick Place West wing will add 470,000 square feet of exhibit space, 250,000 square feet of meeting space and a 100,000-square-foot ballroom.

Indiana

The Indiana Convention Center (317-262-3400; www.iccrd.com) started work last September on the adjacent Lucas Oil Stadium, to be the new home of the Indianapolis Colts football team. Designed with conventions in mind, the stadium will have 63,000 seats and a retractable roof. Once completed in fall 2008, the RCA Dome (the Colts’ current arena, also near the center) will be demolished to make way for a convention center expansion. The upgraded facility, along with the stadium, will offer a total 733,700 square feet of exhibit space, including 10 exhibit halls, nearly doubling the current space. The estimated cost for both projects is $900 million. Officials expect to attract an additional 25 to 30 major shows to Indianapolis each year.

Kentucky

The Kentucky Exposition Center (502-367-5000; www.kyfairexpo.org) in Louisville unveiled its new South Wing C last October. The $52 million extension added 237,000 square feet of function space for a new total of 425,700. Work now begins on the East Wing to revamp 215,000 square feet of event space.

In Covington, the Northern Kentucky Convention Center (859-261-1500; www.nkycc.com) is undergoing re-novations that began last June and will finish this month. Among other changes, the $400,000 project will reconfigure the 46,200-square-foot exhibition hall.

Louisiana

The state’s convention centers played roles they were never intended for in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Many facilities, even if not in the direct path of the storm, were strained to the limit due to the extraordinary ways they were called upon to help people in need.

The Baton Rouge River Center (225-389-3030; www.brrivercenter.com), in the state’s capital, was closed for three months to regular convention business and reopened last November. The center has approximately 100,000 square feet of exhibit space.

New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (504-582-3027; www.mccno.com) is going full-speed ahead with its Phase IV expansion. Indeed, almost at the same time the center partially reopened in February (with the remaining current space set to reopen by this November), city officials signed a $315 million contract for the expansion. Construction will begin in September and end in January 2009. Plans include an additional 524,000 square feet of exhibit space in two halls, 61 new meeting rooms and a 60,000-square-foot ballroom. When finished, the convention center will have a total of 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space, three ballrooms, 201 meeting rooms and a 4,000-seat auditorium. As of press time, 32 events has been booked for the facility for 2006, including 19 scheduled after the hurricane struck, involving approximately 200,000 hotel room nights.

Shreveport Convention Center

The 350,000-square-foot Shreveport Convention Center (318-841-4000; www.shreveportcenter.com) opened in January. The facility features a 100,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall; 10 meeting rooms; and the 18,000-square-foot Captain Shreve Ballroom, named for the city’s founder. An adjacent 14-story, 316-room hotel, to be managed by Hilton, will open in early 2007.

Massachusetts

The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (617-954-2000; www.mccahome.com/bcec.html) now is linked to the 793-room Westin Boston Waterfront, which opened in June. The center has 516,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus a 40,020-square-foot ballroom. The hotel offers two ballrooms, measuring 15,000 and 4,000 square feet, respectively, as well as a 7,000-square-foot terrace for groups and 7,200 square feet of prefunction space.

In Springfield, 90 miles southwest of Boston, the MassMutual Center (413-787-6610; www.massmutualcenter.com) opened last September. The $71 million facility features 40,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 14,880-square-foot ballroom and five meeting rooms. Next door is the Springfield Civic Center, which opened in 1972 and also received a makeover at the time of the center’s debut.

Mississippi

Mississippi TelCom CenterThe Mississippi capital of Jackson is anticipating the fall 2008 opening of its $65 million Capital City Convention Center (601-353-9800; www.downtown-jackson.com). The first phase of the project, the Mississippi TelCom Center (right), opened in January in a neighborhood of the city now known as the Convention District. This conference facility offers approximately 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including 13 meeting rooms and a 382-seat theater. The convention center itself, which will connect to the TelCom Center, will have approximately 90,000 square feet of meeting and function space of its own.

According to Wanda Collier-Wilson, president and CEO of the Jackson Con-vention & Visitors Bureau, “We’ve needed this center for a long time. It has been in the works for the last five years, and it will give us the opportunity to increase our group size from a maximum of 1,000 to double or triple that. We now can appeal to regional and national business.”

Plans also call for new restaurants and shops in the area. The Mississippi Arts Center Complex, which includes the existing Mississippi Museum of Art and Russell C. Davis Planetarium, will be incorporated into the new district.

Missouri

Also creating a new meetings district is Branson, already known for its varied entertainment options and family vacation appeal. Opening in early 2007 is the Branson Convention Center (800-526-3464; www.bransonlanding.com) and the adjacent Hilton Promenade Hotel, in an area called Branson Landing. The 220,000-square-foot convention center, to stretch 1.5 miles along Lake Taneycomo, will have a 23,000-square-foot ballroom and two 50,000-square-foot exhibit halls, while the hotel will offer 233 rooms and 2,000 square feet of meeting space. The 293-room Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel will open later in 2007, serving as the facility’s headquarters property. The hotel will offer 450,000 square feet of shopping and dining options, along with an outside events area called Town Hall able to accommodate up to 5,000 people.

Currently in the midst of a $135 million expansion and renovation is the Kansas City Convention Center (816-513-5000; www.kcconvention.com). The venue’s arena and 388,800-square-foot exhibit hall already have been revamped, and a 46,000-square-foot ballroom will open in 2007. Planners will find new audiovisual equipment as well as a business center. The center currently has 389,000 square feet of exhibit space, 98,000 square feet of meeting space and 23,900 square feet of ballroom space.

Nevada

This past February, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority’s board of directors approved a $1.4 billion expansion for the Las Vegas Convention Center (702-892-0711; www.lvcva.com/meetings), with construction due to begin by the end of this year. Work should be completed by the end of 2010. City officials have approved the addition of an unspecified number of meeting rooms to the center’s South Hall; a new and expansive lobby connecting the existing Central, North and South halls; an additional 255,000 square feet of exhibit space, and an enclosed walkway that will link to the Las Vegas Monorail. In addition, plans call for a renovation of the existing structure.

North Carolina

In March, Charlotte was chosen to be the site for the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, a $154.5 million project that also will include a significant expansion of the adjacent Charlotte Convention Center (704-339-6000; www.charlotteconventionctr.com), which currently has 280,000 square feet of exhibit space. Exact details of the expansion have not been determined, but plans will include a ballroom connecting the center to the hall of fame. NASCAR plans to move its headquarters to a 300,000-square-foot office at the site. All work is due to be completed in 2009 and will be paid for by a 2 percent increase of the city hotel-room tax, to 8.5 percent.

Raleigh Convention & Conference Center ComplexIn the state’s capital, the new Raleigh Convention & Conference Center Complex (919-831-6011; www.raleighconvention.com), left, broke ground in February, replacing a 1977 property of the same name on the site. To open in spring 2008, the center will have 150,000 square feet of exhibit space, 16 meeting rooms and a 32,000-square-foot ballroom for up to 2,400 people. To open at the same time will be the 400-room Raleigh Marriott City Center-Convention Center with a 9,000-square-foot ballroom.

Ohio

In Cincinnati, the Cinergy Center (800-543-2613; www.cincyusa.com) changed its name to the Duke Energy Center following completion of a $160 million expansion and renovation last month. Managed by the city, the enlarged facility now spans 750,000 square feet and has more than 200,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space; approximately 100,000 square feet of meeting space; and two ballrooms measuring 40,000 and 17,400 square feet, respectively. Up to 5,000 people can gather here for events.

Dan Lincoln, who was named president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau in April, says the expansion will attract “a lot of the meetings that have outgrown the city. We now can aim for 75 percent of the U.S. market, targeting major companies such as John Deere & Co., which is coming here in August 2007.”

Pennsylvania

In downtown Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Convention Center (215-418-4700; www.paconvention.com) is planning to undergo an expansion that will nearly double the size of the facility. The new center will have approximately 541,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, with 87 meeting rooms and a second ballroom, bringing total ballroom space to 93,000 square feet. As with Cincinnati, the expansion here will enable the center to host multiple conventions. While the starting date and total cost for the project are still pending, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell presented an initial check for $16 million to center officials in January.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Convention CenterA $62 million renovation will finish in late 2008 at the 14,000-seat Dunkin’ Donuts Center, primarily used for concerts and sports. Part of the work calls for eliminating one wall of the adjacent Rhode Island Convention Center (401-458-6000; www.riconvention.com) to join the two venues. The convention facility has 100,000 square feet of exhibit space as well as 23 meeting rooms.

Tennessee

Not far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Galinburg Convention Center (800-343-1475; www.gatlinburg-tennessee.com/conventions/center.html) completed an expansion last March that gave the venue a new total of approximately 278,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. Features include 50,000 square feet of additional ballroom and auditorium space at the Mills Complex, which adjoins the convention facility.

Utah

Salt Palace Convention CenterA $58 million expansion of Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center (801-534-4777; www.saltpalace.com) is on target to be completed next month. New to the facility will be Hall 5, a 145,000-square-foot exhibit space, giving the venue a total of 515,000 square feet for exhibits. In addition, the center is adding 64,000 square feet of meeting space, for an overall total of 88,830 square feet. The facility also features a 45,000-square-foot ballroom. Salt Palace’s last expansion was completed a decade ago.

Virginia

Debuting in January this year was the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center at Celebrate Virginia (540-548-5555; www.fredericksburgexpocenter.com) on the banks of the Rappahannock River. The 116,000-square-foot property is the first part of a multiuse area called Celebrate Virginia that will comprise a variety of restaurants, hotels (including a Hilton Garden Inn), shops, entertainment venues and the U.S. National Slavery Museum. Work on those aspects of the project will be completed by summer 2007. Meanwhile, the convention center is hosting groups in 80,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom and a 15,000-square-foot conference center with 12 meeting rooms.

“Being midway between Richmond [Va.] and Washington, D.C., definitely has been the catalyst for expansion,” says Sam Voisin, general manager of the Fredericksburg center. “We now can go after some regional events, as well as cement our state association business. We have 206 events in 2006, and we feel things can only get better.”

Virginia Beach Convention CenterOther big news for the state is the soft opening of the $202.5 million Virginia Beach Convention Center (757-437-4700; www.vbfun.com/conventioncenter), which should be fully completed by early next year. A first phase opened last August, featuring more than 300,000 square feet of function space, including 55,600 square feet of exhibit space and 20,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a 150-foot-tall observation tower and a 31,029-square-foot ballroom. The remainder of the facility will include 150,000 square feet of exhibit space and 28,929 square feet of meeting space, for a grand total of 516,522 square feet. The center replaces the old Virginia Beach Pavilion, the city’s original convention venue, which had just 188,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Washington

The expansion of the Spokane Convention Center (509-279-7000; www.spokanecenter.com) continues, with the 100,160-square-foot Group Health Exhibit Hall opening this fall. Scheduled among the first of the facility’s major events is the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, slated for next January. The new space is adjacent to the center, which will close temporarily this fall for an expansion and renovation that will triple the current available space by the end of next year.