Compared to the century-old City Hall in downtown Portland, Ore., the 12-year-old Oregon Convention Center is a modern marvel, with its twin towers, glass-and-steel skylights, fiber-optic backbone, and T1 Internet connectivity. But when the center's 407,000-square-foot expansion opens in April 2003, it could make the original facility seem, in a word, outdated.

That's not going to happen, says Jeff Blosser, convention center director. “We wanted to make the facility as seamless as possible,” he says. Along with new wall coverings and carpet, the existing center is putting in Category 6 cable and T3 lines, upgrading to a digital AV system, and adding state-of-the art fire alarm, HVAC, and lighting controls. “At the end of the day, the finished product looks the same, so we don't hear, ‘Gee, I don't want to be in the old building. I want to be in the new building.’”

The center is in Portland's eastside Lloyd District, overlooking the Willamette River and downtown. The $116 million expansion includes an orange-slice atrium — curved on one side and flat on the other — rising to the base of the twin towers. An interior promenade paralleling Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will have floor-to-ceiling windows along a corridor of retail outlets and meeting space.

With nearly 1 million square feet in all, the expanded facility will offer 255,000 square feet of exhibit space in six halls, two grand ballrooms, and 50 meeting rooms, as well as a new 800-slot parking garage.

A benefit of having 60 percent more capacity is the ability to book simultaneous meetings — two conventions with 125,000-square-foot exhibitions and 25 breakout sessions each could share the facility. Improved acoustics, air walls, and ceiling systems, along with the digital sound system, will control sound bleed between events. “We'll also need to understand client needs and book accordingly,” Blosser says.

Networks between meeting rooms, exhibit halls, and public spaces will be super-fast, thanks to multimode fiber connections and Cat 6 wiring that transmits data at about 4 Gbps. T3 lines will connect to the Internet at 45 Mbps, 30 times faster than existing T1 lines. The infrastructure should support most computing needs, such as large computer training sessions or exhibitors who want to do live inventory look-ups from their booths. If speed and capacity prove inadequate for cutting-edge shows, extra empty conduits will give them the space to bring in their own networks.

ACM/IEEE Supercomputing does just that. In 1999 they set up and ran seven networks in the facility. An event that rarely comes to the same city twice, Supercomputing has selected Portland three times in part because of the center's high-tech features. “They know the building; they know our staff, and they know what capabilities we have,” Blosser says. “They're actually growing with us. They started at about 120,000 square feet back in 1995. They went to 150,000 and could have used more space when they were here in 1999. And now they're booked at about 175,000 to 200,000 square feet for 2009.”

For events that want to go wireless, the center is setting up the infrastructure for propertywide wireless communications. “We'll have the ability to get in the game when it makes sense and it's right for people's use in terms of speed and capacity,” he says. They're also looking at a universal antenna to allow better cellular phone operations. “We have some dead spots now. We're looking at upgrading that capability so the cellphone usage in the facility is as good as it can be.”

OCC Times Two

When complete in April 2003, the expansion project will increase the Oregon Convention Center's capacity by 60 percent and nearly double its meeting space. Here are the numbers:

Existing Expanded
Total space 500,000 sq. ft. 907,464 sq. ft.
Exhibit space 150,000 sq. ft. 255,000 sq. ft.
Ballroom space 25,200 sq. ft. 59,600 sq. ft.
Meeting space 30,000 sq. ft. 58,000 sq. ft.
Parking garage 0 304,795 sq. ft.