While much of the world shut down operations for the pandemic, many hotels took the opportunity to begin — and finish — renovation and expansion projects. Now, many cities are looking to spruce up their convention centers, add more space and attract larger groups.
The following facilities are either completing projects, in the middle of them or trying to get started. The results of these endeavors could well affect the respective destinations' standing in the Convention Cities Index, Northstar's ranking of domestic (and international) cities with respect to large-scale events.
Here's the latest update on the progress for 14 convention center projects around the country.
Convention Center Projects Close to Completion
Now open is the Summit (above), the Seattle Convention Center’s $2 billion downtown addition that nearly doubled the facility's capacity, for a total of 1,008,758 square feet of usable space. The campus is now composed of Arch at 705 Pike, the original building; Arch at 800 Pike, formerly known as the Conference Center; Summit, one block north on Pine Street; and three parking garages.
Following an extended planning and design period, contractors broke ground on the expansion in August of 2018, but the pandemic stalled progress and some funding dried up. The sale of about $342 million in municipal bonds in March 2021 closed the financing gap and allowed construction to be completed.
The Summit features 62 meeting rooms; a 58,000-square-foot column-free ballroom decorated with 3,900 suspended planks of reclaimed wood; 248,450 square feet of exhibit space; 140,700 square feet of lobby space bathed in natural light; and the 14,000-square-foot outdoor Garden Terrace.
On Jan. 11, a topping-off ceremony was held in Denver for the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center. To be completed toward the end of this year, the vertical project being built on to the existing building is adding an 80,000-square-foot multifunction space that will be divisible into as many as 19 breakout rooms, as well as a 35,000-square-foot prefunction area, and a 20,000-square-foot rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and the city. The convention center remains open during construction.
"[The topping off] is a welcome milestone in the progress of the expansion, which will assist us with booking multiple groups simultaneously to maximize capacity," said Richard W. Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, the city's convention and visitors bureau. "Ultimately, these improvements will pay huge dividends for years to come by generating new business for Denver in a very competitive industry."
When the $233 million project finishes up toward the end of this year, the upgrades are expected to generate an additional $85 million in annual economic impact for the city.
Convention Center Projects Underway
As the original convention center was turned into the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center in 2018, the city saw the need to build another meetings facility. Construction is ongoing on the new Arlington Convention Center, which will sport 216,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. The center will be connected to the forthcoming, 888-room Loews Arlington Hotel. The two are expected to open in 2024. The convention facility also will be connected by skybridge to the existing 200-room Live! by Loews hotel.
The expansion is the current phase of a massive, $4 billion project from the city, Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, the Cordish Cos. and Loews Hotels. The first phase welcomed the $250 million Texas Live! entertainment complex in August 2018, and the Live! by Loews hotel a year later. Arlington also is home to the Rangers' ballpark, Globe Life Field, and AT&T Stadium, home of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In October 2021, an expansion to the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Florida opened its doors. The revamped facility currently has 800,000 square feet of space, featuring a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall and two ballrooms.
Work is now underway to build even more onto the center's footprint. When completed, the facility will cover more than 1.2 million square feet, with the 350,000-square-foot exhibition hall; four ballrooms, including a new 65,000-square-foot waterfront ballroom; 50 breakout rooms; upgraded technology; enhanced water taxi access; and a 5-acre waterfront plaza with three restaurants, an amphitheater and outdoor event space. In total, the BCCC is getting an additional 525,000 square feet of meeting space and an 800-room headquarters hotel at a cost of $1 billion.
The expansion is aiming for LEED Gold certification; both the convention center space and the hotel are expected to debut in late 2025.
Ground was broken in 2021 on the 673,000-square-foot addition to the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The $456 million project's reveal is about a year away; the construction will bring the facility's totals to 300,275 square feet of exhibit space; 73,566 square feet of breakout space; two ballrooms, the existing 37,506-square-foot space and a new 32,000-square-foot rooftop ballroom that will have an 18,223-square-foot wraparound rooftop terrace. The center's final footprint will be 1.3 million square feet.
A comprehensive inclusion plan for hiring support firms for the expansion has assured that 25 percent are minority-owned businesses, 5 percent are women-owned, and 1 percent are owned by disabled veterans. Also in place was a residents-preferred program, set at 40 percent, meaning at least $40 million of the $100 million in anticipated construction wages would be earned by Milwaukee residents.
The city is counting on the work to be finished by May 2024, just in time to host the Republican National Convention July 15-18. Construction is on pace to be mostly complete by March 2024, with finishing touches to be added before booked events begin in May.
Work at the Savannah Convention Center in Georgia is on track to finish up next year, and the first group to gather in the enlarged facility recently signed on the dotted line. The National Beta Club will host its 2024 national convention, a citywide event, in Savannah from June 9-20, with an estimated 14,820 room nights.
The expansion project is doubling the exhibit hall space to 200,000 square feet and adding a 58-foot-wide hangar door to ease load-in. Also new will be a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 15 meeting rooms, a 900-space garage, more outdoor event space and a new entrance with an all-glass façade.
Phase one of an expansion project at the city's America's Center convention facility began last May, to be completed by mid-2024. Now under construction are a 72,000-square-foot addition to hall 4 with natural lighting, a new entrance, more than twice the number of loading docks for access to the exhibit space, a "food farm" and other improvements.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, $30 million of a $250 million settlement from a lawsuit over the relocation of the NFL's Rams to Los Angeles would go to fund the first phase of the expansion, which is being pinched by rising construction costs.
Kitty Ratcliffe, president and CEO of Explore St. Louis, says that the funding has been secured and is simply awaiting finalization from the city. "The exhibit hall will be done in a year, so our groups in 2024 will have that new space and new loading docks," Ratcliffe explains, noting that phase two will add other needed elements: a larger, 61,000-square-foot ballroom and accompanying prefunction space, and a 22,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion. No timeline has been set for the second phase of the project.
Convention Center Projects Coming Soon
In November, Dallas voters approved a 2 percentage-point rise in the hotel occupancy tax, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2023, to raise funds for a new convention center and renovations to six venues in Fair Park. Guests in city hotels, motels and short-term rentals will now pay 9 percent to Dallas and 6 percent to the state, for a total of 15 percent; properties with 100 or more rooms tack on an extra 2 percent Tourism Public Improvement District tax for marketing purposes, for a total of 17 percent.
The three-mile radius around the convention center has been designated a "project-financing zone," which allows the city to keep all of the taxes generated within that zone.
The city council had already approved plans in February 2022 to build the new, 2.5-million-square-foot convention center adjacent to the current Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, which would be demolished. Plans for the new facility call for 800,000 square feet of exhibit space and 400,000 square feet of breakout space, including a 100,000-square-foot ballroom. Construction is expected to begin in 2024, with a projected opening date in 2028.
Fort Worth, Texas
Architects have been hired to handle the first phase of the expansion of the Fort Worth Convention Center, which includes the construction of new food-and-beverage facilities, the demolition of the annex, the realignment of Commerce Street to create a site for a future hotel, and the rebuilding of the loading docks. Work will begin this year and finish in 2026.
Funding is in place for the first phase. The second phase possibly will get underway when occupancy taxes have recovered fully to fund the project; it will add 97,000 square feet of new exhibit space, 48,000 square feet of meeting rooms and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom. The existing facility also is scheduled to be renovated.
A site currently is being prepared for the sixth expansion to the Indiana Convention Center since it opened in 1972. This time, about 143,500 square feet of usable space is being added, which will feature a 50,000-square-foot ballroom. When completed, the total exhibit hall, ballroom, meeting room and prefunction space at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium complex will be more than 1.1 million square feet.
Also being constructed is an 800-room Signia Hilton that will be connected to the convention facility by climate-controlled skywalk, bringing the number of hotel rooms with direct access to the center up to 5,520. The official groundbreaking is scheduled for midyear, and both projects should debut by early 2026.
A rolling three-year renovation to the existing Las Vegas Convention Center will begin in April, now that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s board of directors has approved the architectural plans and the $600 million in funding. The project follows the construction of the West Hall, a 1.4 million-square-foot expansion that opened in June 2021.
The majority of construction will take place in 2024 and 2025 to accommodate the current show schedule.
Aside from upgrades throughout the interior, a new entrance will be created on the east side of the South Hall next to the Convention Center Loop passenger station. A climate-controlled connector will be built to allow attendees to move to and from every exhibition hall without going outdoors (currently, access to South Hall is only available outside). The entire project is scheduled to be completed by the end of December 2025, in time for the 2026 CES technology trade show.
Cities Working Out Expansion Details
As the 11th-largest city in the country that disproportionately is home to the 59th-largest convention facility, the Texas capital has been weighing options for expanding the Austin Convention Center for years, but the project stalled during the pandemic and still hasn't been able to get going again. But with a new mayor who recognizes the worth of the project, 2023 could be the year it gets back on track. The current plan is to build onto the facility vertically rather than horizontally, as land costs have skyrocketed downtown and the current center sits on a large enough parcel to support the project.
Austin mayor Kirk Watson, who was sworn in Jan. 4, oversaw the center's previous expansion when he served as mayor the first time, from 1997 to 2001. "He's a big supporter of tourism," says Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Austin, the city's CVB, who also anticipates that the six new people elected to the city council in November will help move the project along.
Look for the release of a request for quotes — possibly this month — to find the construction manager of record, who will be responsible for naming the architectural and design firms. That manager will also assess the costs for the project, which will be financed by a package of hotel-tax revenues and a public-private partnership. Many area improvements also are planned, and the end of the decade should see the opening of light-rail service from the convention center to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which also might be growing.
A push to enlarge the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center has been in the works for many years, but keeps getting snagged. In 2019, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority proposed selling the Back Bay's Hynes Convention Center to help fund a $500 million expansion, but that idea ran into political opposition and then the pandemic hit. The fate of the Hynes still is up in the air, but authority officials want to move forward with work on the BCEC before the aging Hynes must be closed out of necessity and the newer facility has to find calendar space for its older sibling's events.
The latest plan calls for a new 75,000-square-foot pavilion that can be combined with 26,500 square feet of prefunction space, for more than 100,000 square feet of contiguous space; the renovation of the first-floor kitchen; the completion of the third floor of the BCEC, which would add a 23,000-square-foot ballroom and 14,200 square feet of prefunction space; a connecting hall to the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport; and the improvement of the outdoor pedestrian area along D street, with a 10,000-square-foot deck and more.
MCCA spokesperson Mark O'Leary says the story of 2022 helps justify a green light for the expansion: "We just came off our best financial year on record, and everything's looking great numbers-wise for 2023."
No agreements are in place yet, but time is of the essence to expand the Los Angeles Convention Center and nearby JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, as the Olympic Summer Games are headed to town in 2028. Last March, a $1 billion plan was approved by the City Planning Commission. Of the money, $500 million would be used to add 700,000 square feet of space to the convention facility, including a new span connecting the West and South halls. The other $500 million would be used to construct an 861-room tower at the hotel, for a combined total of 1,861 rooms at the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles.
"While the LA Convention Center and Marriott expansion have been pushed back due to the pandemic, AEG and the city are actively working together to finalize the agreement," said Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. "We're excited to see the project moving forward since the Center expansion and additional hotel inventory are key components to the success of the Games."