In the fiercely competitive bid for events, facilities with sleek designs, upgraded tech and plenty of square footage have an undeniable edge. That’s why every city makes a top-notch convention center a priority.
New convention centers breathe life into their communities and pave the way for exciting events and trade shows to take place, while an upgrade to an existing facility can add features to accommodate larger and more prestigious events. In cities across the country, new and improved facilities are generating both interest and revenue for their cities.
For a space that’s sure to elevate their next event, planners should consider these new and upgraded convention centers.
Central Bank Center
Originally opened in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1976, the Central Bank Center and adjoining Rupp Arena, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, underwent a recent renovation and expansion. Construction began in 2020, when the old convention center was demolished. The $310 million project wrapped up construction in spring of 2022, and finishing touches are expected to be complete in the fall. The city decided an expansion was needed to bring the square footage of the center’s exhibit space up to 100,000 square feet and to bolster Lexington’s role in the tourism and events industry. The renovation added 34,000 square feet of exhibit space and nearly 7,000 square feet of ballroom space.
According to Joe Fields, director of convention management at the Central Bank Center, the project is already attracting a number of events the previous convention center would have been too small to host.
“We’re already reaping the rewards of the investment,” Fields said.
Central Bank Center now contains 29,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and over 24,000 square feet of ballroom space. Its design features a glass exterior to let in natural light, high ceilings and modern finishes, but notes of the Bluegrass State can be found throughout the remodeled center. Its central staircase is made of reclaimed wood from Claiborne Farm, the horse breeding farm that was once home to Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Gallant Fox. Other wood features are designed to be reminiscent of Kentucky bourbon barrels.
“Everywhere you look is just featuring Kentucky heritage,” said Fields.
Oklahoma City Convention Center
In the year it’s been operational, Oklahoma City’s new convention center’s size and aesthetic appeal have already made it a popular events destination. The $288 million project wrapped up construction in December 2020 and began hosting events shortly after. It was funded as part of a citywide project known as the Metropolitan Area Project, or MAPS, a sales-tax funded initiative to upgrade the city. The new convention center was part of the MAPS 3 project, with the goal of further elevating the tourism industry in the budding city.
“From the very beginning there was a lot of interest in the building,” said Al Rojas, general manager of the Oklahoma City Convention Center.
The convention center offers an impressive 500,000 square feet of exhibit, event and meeting space divided among four levels. The main 200,000 square foot exhibit space is located on the first floor and can be divided into a maximum of four exhibit halls. The second level has smaller rooms ideal for meetings, events or breakout sessions, with the largest accommodating nearly 300 theater-style or 160 for a banquet. These spaces are flexible and come with audiovisual equipment. A third level offers additional meeting rooms, a junior ballroom and a full-service kitchen, while the fourth floor has nearly 30,000 square feet of ballroom space, seating up to 1,200 for a banquet. The upper levels also feature a balcony, which gives views of downtown and the nearby Scissortail Park.
Savannah Convention Center
When the Savannah Convention Center originally opened in 2000, there was already talk of an expansion in its future. In March 2021, these plans were finally put into action and construction began to double the center’s event space. The center has remained open throughout its construction, and the $271 million renovation is expected to be completed by no later than January 2024. It will retain its stately architecture and its waterfront views of the Savannah River while incorporating modern design elements to the building’s interior. The expected increase in size has already generated enormous interest for the center.
“With the expansion we will be able to host larger and more events; we already have contracts signed utilizing the expansion out to 2029,” said Sherrie Spinks, general manager of the Savannah Convention Center.
The renovation plans to seamlessly blend the original convention center with the additional space while doubling the amount of exhibit space for a total of 200,000 square feet. The expansion will feature an additional 40,000 square foot ballroom, double the number of meeting rooms, and add a covered parking garage and outdoor meeting spaces. The renovation also plans to include a 58-foot hangar door to accommodate events showcasing large machinery and equipment.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
The new Resch Expo in Green Bay, Wisconsin, opened in January 2021 and has been attracting large events with its 125,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space ever since. The $93 million building replaced the 40,000 square foot Shopko Hall and Brown County Arena. An expansion of this size has allowed the expo hall, which is part of the Resch Complex, to host events and trade shows of a greater magnitude than ever before. Its sleek glass exterior and updated technology make it both an attractive and functional space for many events, from sports tournaments to dinosaur shows. The main exhibit space can be divided into smaller segments to accommodate multiple events at the same time.
“We wanted to do the latest and greatest thing,” said Terry Charles, senior manager of corporate communications at the PMI Entertainment Group.
In addition to the vast, column-free exhibition hall, the Resch Expo has a second floor with six additional meeting suites, each equipped with the latest audiovisual technology. Large windows offer visitors a view of the iconic Lambeau Stadium, home of the Green Bay Packers. Washing bays make the exposition center an ideal spot for automobile or boat shows any time of year, as they allow display models to be cleaned during Wisconsin winters. The Resch Expo also features state of the art kitchen
facilities and opening doors that allow the halls to transform into indoor-outdoor spaces during the warmer months.
Terre Haute Convention Center
Terre Haute, Indiana
Located on the western edge of Indiana, spaced evenly between several major cities like Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, Terre Haute, Indiana, is an up-and-coming meetings destination.
To accommodate the large groups that come to the area for sporting and cross-country events and provide western Indiana with adequate meeting space, the Terre Haute Convention Center was built in 2020. The $35 million project was funded in part by a local food and beverage tax.
The center, which is across the street from Indiana State University in downtown Terre Haute, opened to the public in April 2022.
“Terre Haute is really a growing area,” said Tennille Wanner, the convention center’s general manager. “They realized they needed to bring that meeting space back.”
The Terre Haute Convention Center has nearly 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 12,000-square-foot ballroom that can be divided into six sections and seats up to 800 for a banquet. Eight additional breakout rooms can accommodate groups ranging in size from four to 36 people. The center also features an attached hotel, a parking garage with 450 spaces and its own in-house culinary team that handles all of an event’s catering needs, making it a one-stop shop for planners.
The convenient downtown location makes it ideal for attendees looking to explore the city in their downtime due to its close proximity to Terre Haute’s restaurants, museums and shopping. The center is also the future home of the Larry Bird Museum, which is anticipated to open in 2023 to honor the Indiana native and Indiana State University alumnus.