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New and Improved Convention Centers

Roland E. Powell Convention Center

Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City is in the final stages of a two-phase, $22 million renovation of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. But the project isn’t about adding space; it’s rethinking how the space is used. There will be a zero net gain of square footage; however, the space will be completely repurposed.

Basically, a hunk of the center was moved to the side, and the space that created is being filled with a performing arts center, said Fred Wise, director of sales and marketing.

“We’re trading space for space,” Wise said. “We say it’s a doughnut being filled with the performing arts center.”

The two-phase project started three years ago with the goal of creating a 1,200-seat performing arts center in the middle of the convention center. But the center is “basically a barrier reef” surrounded by water, Wise said, so officials had to use what they had. To do that, crews expanded the western edge of the ballroom, building a wall of windows overlooking the Isle of Wight bay, and built an exhibit hall in the space beneath the ballroom. The center then “sliced off” square footage from the interior edges of the ballroom and the hall to inset the performing arts center, Wise said.

Now the center has a 22,000-square-foot ballroom, 64,000 square feet of exhibit space in two halls and a performing arts center that is slated to be complete by year’s end, he said.

“With the convention center developed and new or refreshed hotels, the only element in our community that was left to chance was an opportunity to have entertainment,” Wise said. “We’re now going to have a venue to put that in.”


The Mill at Mississippi State University

Starkville, Mississippi

The Mill at Mississippi State University (MSU) is a $40 million public-private development that broke ground in March and is scheduled to be complete in fall 2015.

University officials have talked about the need for a conference center for “literally decades” and started efforts to make it a reality about 10 years ago, said David Shaw, the vice president for research and economic development. The focus was always on redeveloping a piece of property on the edge of campus, where the university meets the community, and renovating a historic cotton mill there.

After struggling to make the project happen during one of the nation’s worst recessions, university officials decided to shift gears and seek proposals from private developers. What resulted was a public-private partnership that allowed MSU to retain ownership of the cotton mill, called the E.E. Cooley Building, and sell surrounding parcels for private development.

The cotton mill, which is a National Historic Landmark, will become a 74,000-square-foot conference center with a 1,000-person ballroom and four meeting rooms for as many as 200 people, all while preserving the original windows and industrial bones.

Next to the Cooley building will be a 110-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel with a 450-space parking garage. The hotel and the conference center will share a pavilion for outdoor functions. Several other surrounding parcels will likely be developed with restaurants and retail space, he said.

Shaw said the project will not only enhance the visibility of MSU as a whole but also change the “the front door of the campus” to become “the calling card of the university.”