Construction Craze: 7 Midwest Venues Undergoing Renovations
Venues across the Midwest are upping their game with expansions and renovations to better compete for your business.
By Paula Hendrickson | Pictured: Indiana Convention Center
Backhoes and construction cranes may be the best evidence that the meetings and convention industry is rebounding following the pandemic shutdown. While some convention centers took advantage of the slowdown to build, renovate and expand facilities, others have recently announced expansion plans or are currently under construction.
Whether doubling the square footage like Milwaukee’s Baird Center (formerly the Wisconsin Center), or reconfiguring existing space to maximize its potential like the Dayton Convention Center, each undertaking has the same thing in mind: delivering high-end features, flexible spaces and the amenities their guests not only need, but want. Some projects were started to solve a current need — additional hotel space or to accommodate larger conventions — while others wanted to prepare for the future by incorporating sustainability and new technology into their plans.
Let’s look at some of the Midwest’s current projects — and a couple that were recently completed.
How better to mark a 10th anniversary than with a $49 million expansion? Cleveland’s Huntington Convention Center is doing just that; the ambitious project is slated to open next summer.
“The proposed space expansion and enhancements will provide greater options and flexibility for event planners,” says Destination Cleveland President and CEO David Gilbert.
In addition to the first floor’s 20,000-square-foot Atrium Ballroom, plans for the multi-level facility include break-out areas and versatile combination spaces that can accommodate groups large or small. An 11,200-square-foot rooftop terrace is on the second level, while the fourth floor boasts a 12,350-square-foot loft overlooking the atrium.
“The expansion allows us to pursue event opportunities whose space needs we previously could not accommodate. As I watch the construction it’s amazing that all the new space will have natural lighting,” adds director of sales and marketing Travis Poppell.
“This investment indicates that Cleveland is serious about growing its tourism industry and enhancing the community’s popularity and reputation as an exceptional host of meetings and conventions,” Gilbert says.
While ongoing improvements like installing LED lighting, digital signage, and key card entry to exhibition halls and meeting rooms benefit the environment and customers alike, the Indiana Convention Center’s massive expansion — estimated cost $200 million — will also bring more convention business to town.
Concern that a shortage of hotel rooms could drive large conventions to other cities prompted the 183,000-square-foot expansion.
“We have begun construction toward a new 800-room convention hotel and convention space, including a 50,000-square-foot ballroom that will be connected via skywalk to our existing facility,” says Monica Whitfield Brase, public information and marketing manager for Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium. The ballroom will be Indiana’s largest. “The addition of 800 new hotel rooms will allow us to host two citywide conventions at the same time, and host four- and five-star conventions. We’re also pretty enthusiastic about the all-glass exterior hotel, which will be the tallest in the state of Indiana and a spectacular addition to the downtown Indy skyline.”
The massive project is expected to be completed in 2026.
Formerly known as the Wisconsin Center, the Baird Center is doubling its size to 1.3 million square feet. That includes 300,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space, 52 meeting rooms and a 32,000-square foot rooftop ballroom with spectacular views of Milwaukee. Public spaces boast high-end, street-level, grab-and-go vending powered by Amazon technology, while The Cove will offer a smaller, private, office-like setting for one to four people.
“I’m excited about the fact that all people are going to feel welcome,” says Marty Brooks, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Center District, which oversees the venue. “We’ve made sure the building will have all-gender restrooms, sensory rooms and mother’s rooms to help facilitate that welcoming atmosphere. I am also really excited about the [two-story waterfall], the collaborative staircase, the Baird Ballroom and Baird Skyview Terrace, and all of the sustainable technology.”
Constructed with recycled steel, repurposed wood and low-e, bird-friendly glass, Baird Center — complete with solar roof and stormwater management system — will make Milwaukee a greener city when it opens in May 2024.
Ground was broken on the AC Next Gen Project in May 2020, and the $240 million expansion is steaming along. The roof was completed earlier this spring, and this summer the newly-built, 72,000-square- foot exhibit hall was officially connected to the existing structure.
The combined space will allow multiple conventions to be held at the same time, but it’s the modernization and state-of- the-art amenities — coupled with billions of dollars of investments reinvigorating downtown St. Louis — that will give the complex a competitive edge with major venues across the country.
Other enhancements include a facelift to the Washington Avenue entrance, a hybrid meeting broadcast stage, outdoor meeting space, a garden to supply fresh produce to the on-site kitchens and twice as many loading docks than before construction began.
When the initial phase is completed in 2024, the complex will hold a GBAC STAR Facility accreditation. Pending funding, phase two will reportedly include an unobstructed 61,000-square-foot grand ballroom with a 32-foot-high ceiling, a 14,000-square-foot kitchen and an amphitheater.
Already the largest LEED-certified facility in Michigan, it appears that Huntington Place — the longtime home of the North American International Auto Show — is poised for expansion.
In January 2023, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority Board approved an agreement with the Sterling Group (which is also building a residential tower on the former site of the Joe Louis Arena, which was demolished in 2020) to add a large second upscale hotel to the convention center.
Plans are still underway and have yet to be officially announced, but published reports suggest the expansion may include a 30,000-square-foot ballroom, additional parking and greenspace, as well as improved access to the loading dock, while also allowing for Second Avenue to be extended to the Detroit River.
The Dayton Convention Center has remained fully operational throughout an on-going $40 million renovation, which began in August 2022 and should be completed by the first quarter of 2025.
“We won’t be adding additional square footage to the footprint of the building, but what’s being done inside the building is pretty exciting,” says a sales manager for the center. “The exhibit space itself is 68,000 square feet and will be broken into three parts — two exhibit halls and an 18,000-square- foot, state-of-the-art ballroom.”
A new outdoor terrace will overlook a city block’s worth of green space; other changes will bring the older facility into the 21st century with new escalators, LED lighting, an upgraded HVAC system, modernized meeting rooms and digital signage.
“I’m excited about the terrace and the green space, but I’m most excited for the ballroom, which will be the largest in town. It will be up-to-date and state-of-the-art so we can land those big and beautiful banquets that want a little bit more oomph from their venue.”
Although still in the planning process, it seems the venerable downtown convention center — which opened as the Cincinnati Convention-Exposition Center in 1967 with 95,000 square feet of exhibit space — will soon undergo a major renovation.
The center has expanded over the years, and currently boasts 200,000 square feet of contiguous space. Published reports suggest a $200M renovation to modernize the facility will begin in 2024, with an eye toward adding state-of-the-art function- ality while increasing the flexibility and versatility of the overall space.
One downside is that construction — anticipated to take 18 months — would require the temporary closure of the convention center.
Along with an exterior upgrade, mechanical systems will be updated for improved energy efficiency, and the exhibit hall may be expanded. Areas near the center could also benefit with an 800- room hotel, plus a new park and outdoor convention space.
If you can’t wait a year or more to experience a newly renovated or expanded facility, these properties have recently undergone updates and are now ready and willing to welcome your group.
Newly built in 2021, the Vandyk Mortgage Convention Center has 37,700 square feet of total meeting space, nearly 20,000 square feet of convention center space, plus additional meeting space at the adjacent Delta Hotel & Walker’s Restaurant and the neighboring Shore- line Inn & Lakehouse Restaurant.
“VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center offers all brand-new, state-of-the-art, in-house audio and visual capabilities in all of our meeting spaces,” says Katie DeWeerd, director of sales, Parkland Properties. “We ensured that we had an abundance of outlets and data ports throughout our facilities, so that we can cater to any event. We also offer complimentary parking and WiFi.”
Located in the popular Western Avenue entertainment district, the center’s 26-foot curtain window wall offers stunning views of Muskegon Lake and downtown Muskegon from the main convention space and from pre-function spaces. “Collectively, these windows and our skylights will provide natural light and a fresh and airy feel for our visitors, which is unique in a convention center,” DeWeerd adds.
Since opening its doors in April 2022, the newly-built Terre Haute Convention Center has been drawing events to downtown Terre Haute. In its first year alone, the center hosted nearly 200 events and roughly 20,000 guests.
The 43,000-square-foot, full-service center — managed by Oak View Group’s OVG360 division — has 22,000 square feet of flexible space, a 12,500-square-foot grand ballroom and 14 meeting rooms. Accessibility is a priority, from ADA-compliant elevators, presentation staging, and signage to having 17 ADA-compliant parking spaces.
It will soon be home to the Larry Bird Museum — filled with memorabilia from the legendary basketball player’s career — which is slated to open in 2024. And a proposed additional hotel near the convention center could attract even more conventions and meetings in the future.
Paula Hendrickson is an Illinois-based writer whose byline has appeared in numerous national and regional trade and consumer publications. She’s a regular contributor to Emmy, Variety, Pet Product News, Cablefax and Northwest Quarterly.
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