Aiming to capture a bigger piece of the U.S. meeting market, Montreal's Palais des Congres is launching an ambitious expansion project, which will double the center's exhibition space to 200,000 square feet, double meeting room space to 60,000 square feet, and double the number of meeting rooms, to 50. And, there will be 50 more break-out rooms. Fifteen loading docks are planned. Overall, the Palais will grow from its current size of 755,500 square feet to 1,148,150 square feet.

The expansion is set for a May 2002 opening, with construction slated to begin this fall. While the plan still needs a final go-ahead from the city, Todd M. Charlebois, director of sales and marketing at the Palais, says he is confident of Montreal's approval, since the project has already garnered strong local support.

With the addition, the Palais is directly targeting the U.S. market. Not that Americans haven't noticed Montreal--the city entices U.S. planners with its blend of domestic convenience and European ambience, Charlebois says. One example of the convenience factor: The Palais is a bonded facility, all customs business can be handled on-site, which means your materials don't stop at the border but are shipped directly to the center. That French flair really does lure more attendees. When groups compare attendance at their Montreal meetings to attendance at the previous five years' destinations, Charlebois says, they usually find they have upped registration by 20 percent.

Tech Priority The expansion project is being designed in consultation with American clients, Charlebois adds. One of the highest priorities is, of course, technology. Right now the center draws events such as Comdex Quebec, which has met at the Palais since 1986. Features include ISDN lines (128 Kbps/line), T3 lines, a category 5 cable network, ASDL technology (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines, up to 7 Mbps), and a new wireless LAN system. The center can also provide 100BaseT Ethernet connections on request. Internet access is available anywhere in the building.

Satellite transmission is offered, although groups need to bring their own satellite dish. Videoconferencing and teleconferencing facilities are also on-site. One caveat: Though the center can handle various video formats, Canada's format, NTSC, is recommended. Once the expansion is complete, you'll also have the option to use a new digital video control room.

Other technology capabilities that will be added with the expansion include a fiber-optic network and, with that, voice-over IP, which allows you to make long distance calls via your Internet connection.

For international meetings, nine simultaneous translation booths and multilingual staff are available.

The expansion will be built on the west side of the building, meaning that there will be double the number of rooms within a five-minute walk. New, weather-protected walkways will make the stroll easier in all seasons.

Jackhammer Mufflers? Planners considering meeting in the Palais during construction need not fear construction noise, assures Charlebois. Microphones with alarms will be hung throughout the building. When the banging and hammering gets too loud, alarms will sound, the work sites will be shut down. That's just one of the tactics the Palais will use, Charlebois says.

In addition, the center is prepared to halt renovation for 470 out of the 1,000 days slated for construction, should the work interfere with events. "That's the extreme we will go to [so as] not to disturb clients," says Charlebois.

Visit www.congresmtl.com for ex-pansion updates, or contact Charlebois at (514) 871-3109; tcharlesbois@congresmtl.com.