Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Big Plans in Smaller Cities

Convention center expansions in large cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles tend to grab the headlines, as these go-to destinations for large conventions invest billions in their facilities.

But a number of smaller cities are also looking at ways to attract more meetings with larger, updated convention centers. Trade Show Executive magazine reported this spring that 25 convention facilities are under construction and another 35 projects are in discussion.

Some developments are in small to midsize cities, which will mean new options for meeting planners. Here are a few you might want to learn more about:

Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville will be holding the first convention in its expanded downtown convention center this month, and Lexington has announced it will renovate and expand its convention center, with a projected completion date of 2021. The Northern Kentucky Convention Center, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, also plans to expand.

Louisville can also tout the recent opening of a 600-room Omni hotel downtown and the renovation of downtown’s Marriott, across from the convention center.

In Lexington, a 21C Museum Hotel opened downtown in 2016 and a Marriott hotel and Residence Inn will open in late 2019, blocks from the convention center.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City broke ground in June on a $288 million convention center, the largest single civic project in city history. Expected to open in two years, it will be linked to a 17-story Omni hotel and have a 30,000-square-foot ballroom with a balcony that overlooks a city park, a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall and about 45,000 square feet of meeting space.

In Tulsa, a former arena is being turned into a 41,000-square-foot ballroom to help attract larger conventions. The $55 million redo at the Cox Business Center began in July.

Las Cruces and Roswell, New Mexico

In New Mexico, Las Cruces sometimes gets overlooked. But with a population of 100,000, it is the state’s second-largest city and, thanks in part to New Mexico State University, a draw for meetings, especially since the addition of the Las Cruces Convention Center 14 years ago. Many think business has outgrown the center, and a new Courtyard by Marriott under construction adjoining it should make business grow even more. A convention center expansion will soon begin and should wrap up around the same time as the hotel’s opening next summer. Also this summer, Roswell’s convention center will reopen after completing an expansion and renovation.

La Crosse, Wisconsin

There’s controversy over how to do it, but there’s consensus that the La Crosse Center needs a $50 million expansion if the Mississippi River town wants to continue to draw meetings. The plan being considered includes a 17,000-square-foot ballroom with a terrace and another 10,000 square feet of meeting space. But the city’s mayor doesn’t like the fact that the building would extend over a street and part of a riverside park. Other Wisconsin cities that compete with La Crosse, including Green Bay, Eau Claire, Appleton and Wisconsin Dells, are upgrading their convention facilities.

Billings, Montana

A recent update of a 2015 convention center feasibility study reaffirms what experts said would happen — Billings is losing about 25 percent of its meeting business because of limited meeting space. Experts say even more business will be lost in the next five years, which has spurred the city to look at possible solutions. At the same time, Bozeman and Missoula are considering projects that will add new hotel and conference spaces.

Memphis, Tennessee

The city is taking bids again for the planned $175 million renovation of its 44-year-old Memphis Cook Convention Center because initial bids were too high. Memphis plans to expand and upgrade meeting spaces and add terraces to take advantage of its riverside location.