Several Kentucky cities are enjoying a convention center renaissance. In Louisville, the downtown convention center will reopen next summer with one third more exhibition space, and conversations are just starting about a long-awaited expansion in Lexington.
Whether it’s a massive expansion or a full renovation, a partial refresh or new convention hotels, these Kentucky convention centers are remaking themselves to reinvent their markets.
Kentucky International Convention Center
The Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) in downtown Louisville closed in August 2016 and will reopen in August 2018.
“We’ve passed the one-year mark, and it’s one year to opening — now it’s counting the days,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s so exciting to have a new, renovated, expanded center in downtown, but it was also closed for two years. That’s a little different. The anticipation is huge.”
The $180 million renovation “is on target, on time and on budget,” she said. When it reopens next year, it will offer 200,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, up from 150,000 square feet before the renovation, and “that increase will help us accommodate the shows that were outgrowing our space, so we won’t lose them,” Williams said.
The center will also have 52 meeting rooms and will feature a 40,000-square-foot ballroom that can be divided into five smaller spaces.
The CVB has already booked quite a bit of business at the new center, which will reopen with a big bang by hosting the Trade Show News Network Awards, an event that’s “almost like a grand-opening party” for the center, she said.
The KICC will also welcome the Teams Conference and Expo next fall, Connect Marketplace in summer 2019 and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events Expo! Expo! in 2020.
“In a short time, our team has put almost 300,000 additional new room nights on the books that will fall between August 2018 and the first quarter of 2023 — all new business,” Williams said.
Downtown hotel development is booming. The 612-room Omni Louisville Hotel is slated to open in March and will connect by skywalk to the KICC. The AAA four-diamond property will have 70,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, a fitness center, two full-service restaurants, a rooftop poolside cafe, a lobby lounge and a speakeasy with a bowling alley.
“We have the perfect storm going on in Louisville with the renovated and expanded convention center and 2,000 new hotel rooms, but also new bourbon attractions and new restaurants downtown,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a new day.”
Owensboro Convention Center
The glittering glass and modern angles of the Owensboro Convention Center wouldn’t be out of place in the most metropolitan of cities. The striking building sits on the banks of the Ohio River, which separates the city of Owensboro, Kentucky, from the state of Indiana across the water.
The convention center opened in January 2014, and in the nearly four years since, “it’s really helped spur the downtown development,” said Laura Alexander, director of sales and marketing and assistant general manager for Spectra Venue Management.
The 16,500-square-foot lobby’s soaring glass wall fronts the Ohio River, giving both the lobby and the mezzanine level views of the river as well as of the 8,900-square-foot Kentucky Legend Pier that sits over the water.
Each of the center’s three exhibition halls is nearly 15,000 square feet, and combined, they create a 45,000-square-foot column-free exhibit hall.
“We can do a lot of different things with that space; we call it our blank canvas,” Alexander said.
The center often hosts concerts in the hall, such as a recent concert by Josh Turner, something “a lot of convention centers don’t dive into too much, but it’s something we do often,” she said.
The third floor is the meeting level, which has two ballrooms. Each ballroom has more than 13,000 square feet, and each can be configured as up to five smaller rooms. The 3,500-square-foot Riverview Room also overlooks the river.
The center’s partner hotel, a Hampton Inn and Suites, opened at the same time as the convention center, and a second new hotel, the 123-room Holiday Inn Riverfront, opened on the other side of the center in 2015. A third hotel is planned with about 100 rooms and will be breaking ground soon, Alexander said.
Paducah McCracken County Convention and Expo Center
The newest part of the Paducah McCracken County Convention and Expo Center in Paducah, Kentucky, is outside it. The 123-guest-room Holiday Inn Paducah Riverfront opened in late July, an addition that “allows us to get back into that market in a big way,” said Laura Oswald, director of marketing at the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The hotel and the convention complex both sit on the banks of the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers in historic downtown, near the Lower Town Arts District.
The hotel has two meeting rooms; the largest, at 1,400 square feet, can accommodate up to 80 people and has as a full-service restaurant on-site. The hotel opened in time to host the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, which “was a great debut for the hotel and how it can complement the meeting space,” she said.
Just steps from the hotel, the Paducah McCracken County Convention and Expo Center has over 90,000 square feet of function space under one roof. Its Julian Carroll Convention Center has 52,000 square feet of event space, including 13 breakout rooms and a flexible ballroom that can seat 800 at rounds or 1,900 in theater style. The expo area, called the Bill and Meredith Schroeder Expo Center, has nearly 40,000 square feet of exhibit space that can accommodate over 200 exhibit booths or that can be split into two halls.
The convention center also has a new team on board that is doing some in-depth planning about how to be competitive, Oswald said. The CVB is working with the convention center staff to be a “concierge” for everything Paducah has to offer to events and their attendees.
The American Quilter’s Society also debuted the first fall QuiltWeek in Paducah in September to complement the annual spring QuiltWeek held in the city, which is “really the Super Bowl of quilting,” Oswald said.
Lexington Convention Center
In July, architectural firms NBBJ and EOP Architects released designs for the expansion of the Lexington Convention Center and changes to Rupp Arena. Plans call for new exhibit, ballroom and meeting spaces to the north of the current complex that would anchor the proposed Town Branch Park.
The proposed $265 million project would create a convention center with more than 100,000 square feet of exhibition space, 25,000 square feet of ballroom space and 14 meeting rooms, up from the center’s current 66,000 square feet of exhibition space and 17,600 square feet of ballroom space.
Part of the current convention center wraps around the 23,500-capacity Rupp Arena, but the project would remove that area and replace it with a transparent front entrance. Plans call for two smaller buildings to front the convention center and Rupp Arena. One of those, tentatively called the Pavilion, would include meeting space, ballrooms and restaurants.
Lexington Center Corp. manages the convention center, Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House and is spearheading the project. Construction is set to begin in January, and the entire project is slated to be completed by December 2020, according to a press release issued by EOP Architects.