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Newer and Nicer Convention Centers

A year without in-person events hasn’t been a total loss for convention centers. In cities around the country, convention centers have fought through the pandemic and stayed the course on long-planned construction and improvement projects that will make them even better hosts for meetings.

Boasting world-class design inside and out, the latest and greatest technology and top-notch catering, the following new and upgraded facilities promise to host meeting attendees in style.

Roland E. Powell Convention Center

Ocean City, Maryland

With the debut of its 30,000-square-foot exhibition hall in January 2022, the Roland E. Powell Convention Center will finally wrap up its massive, much-anticipated three-phase expansion. The hall will join the center’s 19,000-square-foot Bayfront Ballroom, which opened in 2012 as Phase I of the project, and Phase II’s 1,200-seat performing arts center, completed at the end of 2014. Hall C will connect to two existing halls, and in total, the three will offer 75,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space.

According to Regina Brittingham, convention sales manager for the center, the new hall will provide theater-style seating for approximately 3,400, seating in rounds for 1,550 and room for 154 10-by-10-foot booths. Other Phase III improvements to the convention center include an upgraded sound system across the facility, a new box office and a business center with staff able to fulfill client needs such as large-scale print jobs. 

“While many facilities could offer similar square footage, few offer the serene and spectacular bay views such as those along our bayfront galleria leading you to the entrance of Hall C,” Brittingham said. “We are a full-service convention center, including our own in-house CVB, and would be happy to assist in planning your convention with a view. Who doesn’t want to conduct business or compete while staying at the beach?”

Brookfield Conference Center

Brookfield, Wisconsin

No matter what kind of space you need for your next meeting, chances are the Brookfield Conference Center, which opened in July 2020, can provide it. 

“It’s 54,000 square feet in its entirety, but we really built it with the most flexibility in mind for our potential users and guests,” said Nancy Justman, president/CEO of Visit Brookfield. “So our two ballrooms can break into several different configurations of space, and we also built our hallways and our main atrium, as well as an outdoor area, for flexibility.”

The result of a partnership between Visit Brookfield and the city of Brookfield, the conference center features the 18,000-square-foot Connect Ballroom, which can accommodate 1,200 attendees for a seated meal or 1,800 theater style. The 6,000-square-foot Collaborate Ballroom can host 450 for a seated meal or 600 theater style. Celebration Plaza offers 9,000 square feet of clear-span outdoor space with carefully designed landscaping and conversation areas, and the Celebration Atrium, with floor-to-ceiling windows and original artwork, adds 8,000 square feet of elegant reception space.

Advanced audiovisual, Wi-Fi and table linens are complimentary at the Brookfield Convention Center, and in-house catering is also available. The facility connects to the 168-room Hilton Garden Inn via a glass walkway, providing another 1,680 square feet of event space and an additional meeting room. There are 389 more sleeping rooms within walking distance of the center.

VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center 

Muskegon, Michigan

Muskegon, Michigan’s just-opened VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center has much to recommend it, and that includes a stunning site overlooking Muskegon Lake, a large port on the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan. The 55,000-square-foot facility also connects to the recently renovated, 200-room Delta Hotels Muskegon Convention Center, which offers 10,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and the Mercy Health Arena, newly revamped as well. 

The convention center’s downtown location means “you can walk outside, and restaurants and breweries are right there,” said Bob Lukens, director of Visit Muskegon. “Muskegon is a former Rust Belt city that’s changed immensely just in the past five years. There’s been huge growth downtown, so there are plenty of different, unique spaces for after-hours events.”

Inside the VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center, planners will find a 16,550-square-foot ballroom, 8,100 square feet of prefunction space overlooking Lake Muskegon, 3,050 square feet of adjacent meeting space, up to 13 breakout rooms and what Lukens calls a state-of-the-art audiovisual system. Catering will be provided by the Delta by Marriott, which is owned and operated by the same group that owns the convention center. Should planners require extra space, the Shoreline Inn, across the street, provides another 140 guest rooms and 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Meeting planners can look forward to the opening of the new exhibit hall in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center come late fall of this year. Part of a $1 billion expansion that kicked off in February 2020, the hall will provide a whopping 350,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space. But that’s just part of the project, which, when completed in 2025, will offer a 1.2-million-square-foot facility, twice the size of the current one.

That will include an additional 50,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and a new 65,000-square-foot waterfront ballroom; all, like the exhibit hall, are equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi connections and cutting-edge audiovisual technology. But most exciting might be the new outdoor waterfront plaza that “will provide not only spaces for outdoor entertainment and recreation, but open-air options for conference breaks and even breakout meetings,” said Ed Simon, executive vice president of Visit Lauderdale.

“Our waterfront location provides the perfect opportunity for immediate access to our waterways, including our public water taxi and yacht charters,” Simon said. “Groups will have the option of hosting luncheons or cocktails receptions on yachts that pick up attendees right from the convention center, a perfect introduction to meeting in the Yachting Capital of the World.”

Shelbyville Conference and Welcome Center

Shelbyville, Kentucky

Perched deep in the heart of horse country and less than an hour from Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, the Shelbyville Conference and Welcome Center offers small-town Southern charm as well as a unique design that pays homage to the area’s equine heritage. Outside, “three historic silos act as visual centerpieces,” said Chenelle McGee, president and CEO of ShelbyKY Tourism, while inside, “the combination of woods and leather symbolizes Shelby County’s designation as the American Saddlebred Capital of the World.”

The 16,000-square-foot facility, which will open September 1, includes a 6,800-square-foot banquet hall that can seat 450 banquet style, 680 theatre style and 300 crescent style. Or the space can be broken up into three equal-size rooms of 2,200 square feet, with the exterior chamber able to be split again into two smaller meeting areas of 1,100 square feet each. A prefunction area adds another 2,400 square feet of space. 

With a location in the center of downtown, the Shelbyville Conference and Welcome Center is conveniently situated within five miles of five hotels. It also boasts a dedicated trolley available for pickups from hotels and/or excursions throughout the county, including, as McGee said, “agritourism, bourbon distillery tours or shopping at the only designer outlet mall in Kentucky. The trolley is a unique extension of the tourism and conference center offerings.”