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Convention Centers, Rebooted

After a strong uptick in new hotel openings and existing hotel renovations over the last several years, planners are finally able to reap the benefits of post-recession meeting space investments in convention centers, as the first round of stunning, modern convention center overhauls funded by forward-looking cities open around the country.


Albuquerque Convention Center

Albuquerque, New Mexico

While the 270,000-square-foot Albuquerque Convention Center has long provided a stunning setting due to the surrounding Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande River, the center itself now reflects Albuquerque’s unique surroundings with an innovative design that focuses on maximizing the needs of meetings large and small, from conventions to the little sales conversations that happen around the new fireplace in the lobby.

“There needed to be a contemporary look, because you’re dealing with a great southwest destination that has a flavor and character that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Alex Shelton, vice president of convention sales, services and sports for Visit Albuquerque. “When people build convention centers, they’re often a big box, but when they rebuilt [this one], they were really sensitive to the natural light and 300-plus days of sunshine.”

The $23 million, two-phase renovation overhauled all carpeting, lighting, technology and finishes and included back-end changes that enhance the meeting planner’s experience, such as redesigned loading docks, service and freight elevators and kitchens. But the stars of the new design are where outside meets inside, namely the new light-filled atrium entrance, which services three oversized levels with peaked skylights that sweep the length of the space and a new entertainment deck off the ballroom.

Donald E. Stephens Convention Center

Rosemont, Illinois

Located near Chicago O’Hare Airport but still in easy driving and public transit distance of Chicago, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, often abbreviated as the DES Convention Center, is no stranger to renovations. Consistently responding to demand for the conveniently located center, the original 150,000-square-foot facility has grown to 890,000 square feet and hosts 1.35 million visitors each year.

This year, a more than $2 million renovation will see the entire interior of the center repainted, seven sets of restrooms redone and concession stands renovated. The work will be completed in phases around the tradeshow schedule to update many areas of the convention center that have not had a touch-up since the 1980s. The facility includes a 250,000-square-foot exhibit area in the main convention center as well as an attached conference center with 92,000 square feet of meeting space that can be configured into 50 meeting rooms.

In 2014, the center completed its last major renovation, overhauling 64,000 square feet of ballrooms with new paint, carpet, wallpaper, lighting and artwork to the tune of $5.5 million. A new 9,400-foot-long skywalk connects the convention center to the center’s two parking garages, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, the Hilton Rosemont Chicago O’Hare, the Doubletree Hotel O’Hare-Rosemont and the Aloft O’Hare Hotel.