Look out Providence — you may have the TV show and Mr. Potato Head, but when it comes to conventions, Hartford's hot on your trail. Connecticut's capitol city has broken ground on a new convention center, that, if it lives up to the proposed plans when it opens in March 2005, will really put Hart-ford at the top of the convention pyramid of small cities.

It didn't look like much yet this fall as I watched the construction equipment push dirt and girders around from atop the new Phoenix Gateway walking bridge that connects the Constitution Plaza area to the new Riverfront Plaza, but even in this early stage, it's easy to see this is going to be big. According to folks at the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, the 550,000-square-foot facility, which will be the anchor of the Adriaen's Landing development downtown, will be the second-largest in New England (the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center will be the largest).

Designed by American Institute of Architects 2002 Architecture Firm Award winner Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback Associates, the center will have a 145,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom (the largest in New England), and breakout rooms that can be configured to accommodate anywhere from 50 to 1,400 delegates. The Adriaen's Landing area also will house a Marriott headquarters hotel, retail shopping, and, eventually, high-rise residential housing. For a virtual tour, contact the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau at (860) 728-6789 or click the “conventions” tab at www.hartford.com.

Hartford's been quietly revitalizing itself in other ways since the olden days when I lived outside the city. The Goodwin Hotel, in danger of being condemned back when I worked in its restaurant one summer, now is a gorgeous, upscale, luxury hotel. The area around the train station, which once housed my favorite gritty rock-and-roll bar, now is the home to great restaurants, discos — even the station itself has been completely redone and now houses the Hot Tomatoes restaurant (a must for any dine-around!). And for a city I used to think of as kind of stodgy, the Lego people on the walking bridge — statues of firefighters, dog walkers, and even one-time Hartford resident Mark Twain made out of Legos — were a great touch of whimsy.