The sparkler sped across a narrow wire until it reached the purple swag suspended from the lobby ceiling in the Chattanooga Convention Center. Pffffffffffft! The sparkler cut the ribbon and the newly expanded convention center was officially opened, under budget and ahead of schedule. Local movers and shakers thronged the 890-foot-long lobby--as long as three football fields--for the gala opening reception on April 10.
At 298,000 square feet, the convention center is now nearly triple its original size. Exhibit space is up to 108,000 square feet from 50,000 square feet; meeting rooms have increased from 3 to 21; there are six ballrooms, up from three; and the largest group that can be accommodated theater-style is 7,500.
Although the center features T1 Internet access, wireless connectivity, and programmable lighting controls, the feature that gives it bragging rights is as low-tech as it can get: natural light. Ceiling openings in the exhibit areas mean that exhibitors can work by natural light during set-up and tear-down, and use less electricity during shows--a huge cost savings. For AV presentations, ceiling shades can be lowered to cut off the natural light.
"From the day we opened in 1985, we turned away 180 to 220 events each year," says Mike Shuford, assistant director of the Chattanooga Convention Center. "The largest group we could bid on was 600 to 700 delegates. Now, we can host 90 percent of the conventions in the country."