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Big changes at smaller convention centers

Courtesy Tinley Park Convention Center

TINLEY PARK, Ill. — Another 24,000 square feet of exhibit space has been added to the Tinley Park Convention Center in the Chicago southwest suburb of Tinley Park.

With the expansion, the center has 58,000 square feet of clear-span contiguous space.

“The planners we work with are excited to have a facility of this size so close to downtown Chicago,” said Mary Patchin, director of sales for the Chicago Southland CVB. “With the expansion of the Tinley Park Convention Center, we will now be able to attract larger regional and state conferences and shows that we would not have been able to accommodate in the past.”

Among the first will be the Illinois Science Teachers Association, which will bring about 600 people to the center this fall.

It cost $20 million to expand the center, which is attached to a 202-room Holiday Inn at the junction of Interstate 80 and South Harlem Avenue.

Another 1,000 hotel rooms  are nearby Tinley Park, including 400 in hotels managed by Mid-Con Hospitality, which manages the Tinley Park Convention Center. Mid-Con provides free shuttle service between its other hotels and the convention center.

Other improvements made include high-efficiency lighting in exhibition areas, a concession stand, wireless Internet, a full-service business center, loading docks and a storage area. Another 450 parking spaces were also added, giving the center free parking for 1,500 vehicles.


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SAN JOSE, Calif. — About $120 million will be spent to add another 125,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space to the San Jose Convention Center.

It is a sizable leap for the center, now at 425,000 square feet, and one meant to keep the center competitive and heighten its appeal as a meeting destination.

Team San Jose, the local convention bureau, and area hoteliers campaigned for the expansion, which will be designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver standards.

“The new convention center will become an icon of pride for San Jose and increase Team San Jose’s competitive edge selling San Jose as a destination in the meetings and convention marketplace,” said Bill Sherry, CEO of Team San Jose, which operates the convention center and several other city cultural facilities. “We will use the same strategies we used at the Mineta San Jose International Airport, where we were under budget and on time with no minimal impacts to operations, to deliver the convention center project.”

In 2009, San Jose hoteliers voted to institute a dedicated hotel tax to finance the project. By legal requirement, the tax can only be used to support capital improvements at the convention center and includes ongoing revenue for future maintenance.

The convention center opened in 1989. The new space will include 35,000 square feet of flexible ballroom space.


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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Installing 144 commercial-grade solar thermal panels on the roof of the St. Paul RiverCentre early this year is the energy-saving equivalent of taking 90 cars off the road for a year.

The solar panels cover about 30,000 square feet of rooftop, roughly the size of two-thirds of a football field. They reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 900,000 pounds each year.

The solar energy collected is being used to heat water, not produce electricity. The panels can convert up to 80 percent of absorbed sunlight into usable thermal energy, compared to 15 percent efficiency in solar electric panels.

“Renewable energy and sustainability are not just catch phrases around our convention complex,” said Karolyn Kirchgesler, president and CEO of Visit St. Paul. “They are a way of life here, and this solar thermal project is the next major step in our commitment to the environment.”

District Energy St. Paul, which provides heating to the RiverCentre through a combined heat and power plant that uses renewable, urban wood residues, installed and is operating the solar thermal array.

St. Paul and Minneapolis are among 26 major U.S. cities that are accelerating the adoption of solar energy technologies through the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar America Cities” partnership. The center’s solar thermal installation was the first of 40 projects selected nationwide to be completed.


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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Plans to build a 400-room Hilton Hotel adjacent to the Palm Beach Convention Center moved forward in April when county commissioners voted to begin negotiations and approved a $27 million subsidy.

“A new convention center hotel will finally complete the package we need to elevate Palm Beach County’s image as a group, meetings and conventions destination,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County CVB. “It has an enormous potential to bring in new business to our destination.”

The CVB’s lost-sales business report showed that more than 110,000 room nights and 120,000 attendees were lost due to the lack of a headquarter hotel.

Under the current plan, the hotel would be built at the north end of the convention center; a parking garage would be built to the south.

A convention center hotel will be the finishing touch on the region’s Convention and Entertainment District, which includes the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and CityPlace, 100 destination shopping, dining and entertainment options.


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ATHENS, Ga. — An expansion of the Classic Center is set to begin as soon as city council members approve plans for the project.

The council was scheduled to review plans in early July after sending architects back to the drawing board. The original plans, unveiled in May, would have put the project over its $20 million budget.

There is also concern about whether the building provides enough access points for locals who want to walk from one street to another in downtown Athens.

The proposed building, which would be about three blocks long, was described as a “wall of sorts” by one citizen, according to the local newspaper.

Style-wise, the expansion will resemble an old factory or train station and use brick, steel and glass to mirror warehouses across the street from it.

The original design also created a new atrium entrance that oriented the center back toward the Oconee River and a river district that is proposed there.

“It does sort of echo a large train station,” said Jennifer Lewis, a historic preservation expert with the College of Environment and Design. “It’ll be a good, bright, usable space.”

The project, approved by voters in November as part of a 1 percent sales tax extension, will double the size of the Classic Center’s exhibit hall to 55,000 square feet, which will allow it to book larger conventions and trade shows.

Officials hope to complete it by April 2013 – the start of its busiest season – to avoid losing any major conventions or trade shows that are outgrowing the facility. The city got good news in late June when the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to return to the city through at least 2014. The group has met at the Classic Center for 12 of the last 13 years and currently brings 3,000 to 4,000  attendees to town.