The Charlotte Convention Center To Expand Up With A New Level
More space and some "new looks" are in store for Charlotte’s Convention Center. City Council members last week approved plans for a $110 million expansion and renovation of the 23-year-old center in uptown.
The project will add more rooms for "breakout" sessions and places for convention-goers to mingle. Plans also call for a new pedestrian bridge linking the convention center to the Westin Hotel.
Money for the project would come from Charlotte’s tourism taxes.
Tom Murray is the Chief Executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which has been eyeing plans to expand the convention center for the past few years in order to compete with cities like Nashville and Austin. Murray spoke with "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey.
Mark Rumsey: So, talking about the project itself: Is this renovation primarily about adding square feet to the convention center or reconfiguring what’s already there? What’s the main objective?
Tom Murray: Two things. One, the connectivity to the community, in particular, the Westin Stonewall stations facilities. That was an important part of the study that said people wanted to have more access to the community and wanted a unique community feeling on the inside of our building. So, that was the case around the bridge and that did call for some configuration of meeting space so that we could have the path that comes in from the light rail trail received in a way that seemed like we planned it that way all along. So, that was important.
Secondarily, the meeting’s business has been evolving from large trade shows to more breakout meetings. Some of our competing cities had a better ability to serve some of the bigger customers we were targeting and we were losing because we didn't have enough of that type of breakout space that they wanted. We expect to be much more competitive and see significant revenue increases after we come out of construction, the good news is our bookings for the rooms we haven't built yet are quite strong.
MR: So you do feel that the city has lost convention business because of some limitations in the current facility?
TM: I wouldn't say lost business. I would say we’re less competitive.
The convention center continues to perform extremely well. We set another record in our last financial year. I just reviewed last month’s financials and we had — in the history of the convention center — the strongest revenues we’ve ever had last month. We continue to be a strong performing convention center, but I think we could certainly maximize our convention center more if we were able to attract larger groups — particularly because those larger groups fill hotel rooms. And as you are probably aware the hotel room inventory in the marketplace has grown significantly, both in uptown and in the region.
MR: A lot has changed in uptown Charlotte since the convention center opened in 1995, including those areas around the facility as you’ve alluded to. I'm wondering, does the layout of the building — the footprint and the surrounding development — present limitations as to what can be done in terms of expansion?
TM: Well we're not out in the middle of nowhere so, obviously, we wanted to expand the exhibit hall space. There are more challenges when you're in an urban core. For instance, there is still some opportunity to grow around. But as you probably see, there are very few parcels around the convention center remaining.
So interestingly, this expansion is done on a roof. So, we actually didn't need additional land for that to happen. We’re trying to be smart about making sure that we're still in a vibrant, urban center.
MR: You’re going up with the expansion, adding a level. Is that right?
So, the breakout space is actually on what you would call the second floor. We have two levels above ground and one level, large level, with 30-foot ceilings below ground, which is the exhibit hall. It was necessary for us to have this expansion feel like a part of the old building and [feel] continuous. So, if you've never been in our convention center, when we're done you won't see a new and an old. It will look like the same facility with additional breakout space and that breakout space would be very proximate to the old space and very convenient.