Winning meeting business will take more than an eight-year-old, glass-walled facility in sunny Fort Lauderdale, said Mark Gatley, referring to the building where he serves as general manager. It will take the 230,000-square-foot expansion now under way and state-of-the-art technology. Gatley, flanked by a wall-sized ice sculpture of the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center and armed with a bullhorn, shared his vision during the groundbreaking ceremonies for a $30 million expansion.

"One of the things the millennium is all about is catching up and keeping up with technology," said Gatley, who oversees the building for Phila-delphia-based SMG, the center's management company. "If we are to compete in the future, we have to show meeting planners that our technology is on the cutting edge."

To that end, the expansion to the facility will feature Category 5 and fiber-optic cable "at a minimum," says Deputy Director Carlos Puentes. A fiber-optic network will deliver high-speed Internet access and voice and data transmission, both wired and wireless, from anywhere in the expansion, not just the new 50,000-square-foot exhibition space. The project also adds 12 breakout rooms and a 6,000-square-foot kitchen.

The expansion is expected to open in September 2001, followed in December 2001 by a 500-room adjacent hotel.