After years of debate over scale and design, and a long pause for a gubernatorial election, it looks as though the Caribbean will finally have a world-class convention center. Work on phase one of the Puerto Rico Convention Center (www.prconventioncenter.com) was to have begun in December, with a revised completion date of 2004.

The completed center will have more than 580,000 square feet of space, including 159,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 85,000 square feet of pre-function space, and 200,000 square feet of service space. Phases two and three, should they be judged necessary, will add another 300,000 square feet.

Negotiations are under way to build an 880-room headquarters-scale hotel on the site, to be managed by Marriott International. Also in the works are plans for an International Trade Center and a science museum for children, not to mention a large investment in roads and landscaping.

The convention center's designers, taking a cue from such centers-with-a-view as Hong Kong, are not simply offering a box with exhibit space. “Creating a sense of place that roots the convention center to Puerto Rican heritage, culture, and history is crucial to creating a memorable experience for the visitor and setting the center apart from its competition,” says Thomas Ventulett, senior principal of TVS International, which has designed more than two dozen centers, including McCormick Place in Chicago.

The project is being built in the Isla Grande area, a waterfront district not far from San Juan's Old San Juan tourist neighborhood.

Ariba, Ariba

Meanwhile, in the immediately adjacent waterfront district of San Juan known as Condado, a separate, private project, Paseo Caribe, has begun. This ambitious mixed-use development will include an expansion of the 654-room Caribe Hilton, creating a total of 930 rooms, which will make the Hilton the biggest hotel in Puerto Rico. Part of this expansion will include 88 two-bedroom luxury villas, leased to the Hilton and operated under the name Conado Lagoon Villas. Another part of the Paseo Caribe development will be an entertainment and recreation center with restaurants, retail stores, a casino, and specially built “cinema lounges” for dining while film viewing. Parking for 1,700 cars is planned.

As if all this weren't enough, Puerto Rico's new governor, Sila Calderon, recently traveled to western Puerto Rico to help inaugurate the San Antonio Technological Park. The park, whose first major tenant will be a Hewlett-Packard manufacturing facility for inkjet printers, represents a step in Calderon's pledge to develop what she calls the “Puerto Rico Technoeconomic Corridor of the West.” A technoeconomic summit held in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association in early November was expected to draw additional tech business to the island.

Should these economic plans work out, Puerto Rico will not only have a 600,000-gross-square-foot facility for tech industry conferences and conventions, but possibly a decent-sized local audience for them, too.