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Louisville: City of Icons

In the meetings business, when discussing “small markets,” Louisville, Kentucky, is probably a little on the big side. But don’t let all the impressive convention and meeting space downtown or at the nearby Kentucky Exposition Center fool you. Louisville will gladly host meetings of any size, with a dash of Southern charm and hospitality blended in.

No matter how you pronounce Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville has meeting venues galore, hotels of all types and a fun dining and entertainment district you’ll long remember.

“Louisville has all the convenience of a large city, but with the hospitality of a small town and the affordability of a midsize city. We attract many different meetings and shows,” said Katrina Gallagher, communications manager and conventions specialist for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In addition, Louisville is centrally located and within a day’s drive of about 60 percent of the nation’s population. Its downtown is compact, and meeting attendees can easily walk from meeting sites to hotels to attractions. “A lot of cities don’t have that all in one small area,” said Gallagher.


Meeting Venues

The Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) in the heart of downtown Louisville has 300,000 square feet of meeting space, 190,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom that breaks into three sections, the smallest at 9,400 square feet. There are also 52 meeting rooms that can be sized for any group’s purpose.

“They accommodate as few as 10 people or as many as thousands, depending on how you configure,” said Lorraine Leveronne, sales manager for the convention center. There are six different lobbies that are suitable for receptions. One is just outside the state-of-the-art conference theater, a popular choice for small meetings of up to 175 people.

“We’re one block away from Fourth Street Live!, the main downtown entertainment district,” said Leveronne. Also nearby is the KFC Yum! Center, a 23,000-seat arena that hosts big-time college basketball, concerts and other events.

The recently concluded Kentucky General Assembly approved $56 million for a major renovation and expansion of KICC that will expand its contiguous exhibit space, add a large ballroom and renovate meeting rooms among several needed updates. A timeline has not been set for the project, although it will probably be at least a year before construction begins.

Just seven minutes south of downtown, adjacent to the airport, is the massive, 1.3 million-square-foot Kentucky Exposition Center. It is one contiguous space of connected buildings for easy access. But don’t be intimidated by its size. Flexibility is the key word there.

“We have more than 50 meeting rooms and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom divisible into five different units. There’s a cluster of smaller meetings rooms that can be configured into several options,” said Melanie Duke, who works in business development for the center. “We have great lobby space for meals or exhibits. It’s glassed in, with an airy feeling.”

Corporate clients who have used the space include Humana, LG&E, Wal-Mart, Kroger and Norton Healthcare. “They use general session rooms or breakout rooms,” said Duke. Delegates love the parking arrangement, with thousands of spaces just outside the doors.

For large gatherings, the property has 19,000-seat Freedom Hall and 6,600-seat Broadbent Arena. Three hundred acres of outdoor demonstration space is available. The west side of the complex is popular with agriculture interests. The annual Kentucky State Fair is also staged on the property.

The attention of the sports world is focused on Louisville the first Saturday in May with the running of the Kentucky Derby, held for the 140th time this year, at historic Churchill Downs, a short distance from the Exposition Center. The track and the adjacent Kentucky Derby Museum are great off-site venues for receptions and dinners.

Nearby attractions for off-hours activities include the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, the Louisville Zoo and Louisville Mega Cavern, which contains the world’s only fully underground zip line.

Need some fresh air and exercise after a meeting? Louisville is a parks wonderland, with several near downtown designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of New York City’s renowned Central Park.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.