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Christmas comes early as cities open new convention facilities

Courtesy Quad-City Times

Christmas came early in Davenport, Iowa; Wilmington, N.C.; Las Cruces, N.M.; and a number of other small towns around the country, with the opening or reopening of convention and meeting facilities in late 2010.

In Davenport, local citizens were urged to dig out receipts from long-ago stays at the Hotel Blackhawk so they could book a room at those old rates at the newly opened and extensively renovated historic hotel, a promotion offered through mid-January.

Tim Heim, the sales and marketing director, told the Quad-City Times, “I think it will be a blast to see receipts shown from the past decades and welcome those guests back to Hotel Blackhawk in a unique way.”

The newspaper heralded the reopening of the 130-room hotel and its 10,000 square feet of meeting space with a special section published in mid-December.

Excitement on Wilmington riverfront

In Wilmington, the long-awaited Wilmington Convention Center opened with much promise on the city’s riverfront in November. Sales staff have already booked more than 75 events, including the state convention of the Republican Party in June. With 107,000 square feet of meeting and function space, the center is the largest convention center on the North Carolina coast.

South New Mexico gets a meeting place

By the end of 2010, a new convention center in Las Cruces, N.M., had hosted several events and was planning for its official opening and public open house this month.

The 55,000-square-foot facility, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space, is on the edge of the New Mexico State University campus, so it makes sense that the school’s College of Education awards banquet was among the first events held there.

Here’s a more detailed look at these new and renewed facilities and others.

Convention and events centers
Projects large and small are expected to make big differences in second-tier and smaller cities.
In Bemidji, Minn., eight meetings or tradeshows had been held by mid-December at the Sanford Center, an events center that opened in late October.

On the south shore of Lake Bemidji, the facility includes a 10,000-square-foot divisible ballroom, four 1,000-square-foot meeting rooms with views of the lake and a 4,000-seat arena that can be reconfigured for trade shows or banquets.

“We are very excited to have a convention center where we can hold a meeting larger than 300 in the Bemidji area,” said Denelle Hilliard, executive director of Visit Bemidji.

Yum! comes to Louisville

On the other end of the spectrum, the KFC Yum! Center opened on the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky. Primarily known as the home of University of Louisville basketball and a concert venue, the Yum! Center is also expected to be a draw for large conventions, with an arena that will seat up to 23,000 during general sessions. The center also has significant meeting space — 34,000 square feet in four rooms, three of which have walls of windows that overlook the river.

The largest is the Spirit Room, a 12,000-square-foot banquet room with a built-in bar. A skywalk connects the facility to more than 2,300 hotel rooms; there are another 1,900 within walking distance.

By making use of an adjacent historic building, the High Counry Conference Center at Northern Arizona University expanded its meeting space in late 2010. The center added three more meeting rooms by converting the North Union next to it. In February, the center will open a new full-service restaurant.

Low impact on environment
While the new convention centers in Las Cruces and Wilmington are expected to have a big impact on meeting business, both will have a low impact on the environment.

The Las Cruces facility will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Plants that use little water landscape its grounds, rows of bicycle racks encourage alternative forms of transportation, energy-efficient lighting and low-flow plumbing were used throughout. The building’s roof was painted a light color to reflect heat and photovoltaic cells were used to convert solar energy to electricity.

The center’s meeting space includes a a 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 9,360-square-foot ballroom, six break-out rooms, 5,000 square feet of outdoor space and 2,000 square feet of prefunction space.

Wilmington center goes green

The Wilmington center has many of the same green features and several that are indicative of its location on the Cape Fear River, such as a sand filtration system designed to keep pollutants from escaping into the river. The Wilmington center is also expected to earn LEED certification.

In historic downtown, the convention center includes a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, more than 15,000 square feet of pre-function space and nearly 6,000 square feet of meeting space.

Because of the area’s temperate weather, meeting planners will be able to use a waterfront event lawn most of the year.

Designers chose a maritime theme, with elements that resemble sails, waves and ship’s hulls. Historical art that spans a century shows Wilmington as an industrial center and military port.

The rebirth of the Blackhawk, closed following a fire in 2006, might be the comeback story of the year. In mid-December, locals were anxious to see what four years and $35 million had done to restore the 95-year-old Davenport property.

Many were particularly excited about the return of the 5,000-square-foot Gold Room, the site of many important social occasions.

The hotel, part of the Summit Hotels and Resorts group and a member of Historic Hotels of America, was restored by Restoration St. Louis.

The hotel has been inundated with booking requests for the Gold Room; city tourism officials hope that the Blackhawk, connected to the city-owned RiverCenter convention complex, will help attract larger conventions and meetings.

Four Seasons comes to Vail
In the Colorado mountains, a pair of sharpened skis cut the ribbon at the opening of the Four Seasons Resort Vail in early December. The 121-room hotel has 8,500 square feet of meeting space, including a 3,500-square-foot ballroom.

The 10-story alpine-style lodge sits at the main entrance to Vail Village, at the base of Vail Mountain. Among its amenities are a year-round outdoor pool and a 14,000-square-foot spa with a relaxation garden.

Museums and other attractions

When the Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Culture Center opens in May north of Marysville, Wash., meeting planners will be able to book two meeting rooms and their adjacent patios.

The $19 million cultural center interprets and preserves the history and culture of the Tulalip Tribes. It is being built on a 52-acre preserve with a salmon-bearing stream, wetlands, a forest and orchards that is part of the Tulalip Reservation.

Wilmington, Del., is restoring a piece of its history and culture with the reopening of the Queen Theatre.

Closed more than 50 years, the downtown movie house will reopen this spring. Built in 1915, the theater will become the home of World Cafe Live, a spinoff from Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live.
In addition to a 400-seat theater, the Queen will have a 160-seat restaurant and two private event spaces.

Art museums add more than exhibits

Two existing art museums have opened expansions that not only provide more space for artwork but also offer more options for meetings and events.

In Sacramento, Calif., the Crocker Art Museum opened a $100 million expansion in October that tripled the size of the existing facility.

A two-story atrium that seats up to 400 for dinner and a 260-seat auditorium are among the new venues. The museum also has a cafe, a feature that the museum lacked in the past.

In Richmond, Va., the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts spent $150 million over four years to make additions that include two restaurants, a 3.5-acre sculpture garden and a 500-seat theater.

A conference center adjacent to the theater has breakout rooms; the two restaurants have terraces that overlook the sculpture garden. A plaza and a pergola are also available for special events.