With an expanded convention center, a new 1,000-room hotel, and the grand opening of a light-rail system connecting the convention center to downtown, the suburbs, and the airport, Phoenix begins a new era as a convention destination.
The Phoenix Convention Center’s five-year, $600 million expansion opened December 27, tripling the size of the facility. It now has 900,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, with a design inspired by the Grand Canyon and featuring solar panels, a water harvesting garden, and public artworks worth $3.2 million.
The center can accommodate 80 percent of the conventions in the U.S., according to city officials. About 70 groups will meet at the new facility during its debut year, bringing 288,000 attendees to town. By 2014, the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau anticipates booking 375,000 attendees annually for the expanded center, bringing $550 million in direct spending to the city’s economy. The American Meteorological Society and the Professional Photographers of America were the first two groups to use the new space.
Complementing the expansion, the new 1,000-room Sheraton Downtown Phoenix opened in October. Located a block from the center, the Sheraton is now the largest hotel in the city.
Connecting it all is the new $1.4 billion light-rail system. There are 38 stops on the 20-mile line, including one at the convention center. The street-level system, powered by electricity from overhead wires, links the convention center to downtown attractions, restaurants, nightlife, sports venues, and museums. There are also stops at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and neighboring cities Tempe and Mesa.
“This beautiful new convention center allows Phoenix to attract large conventions that our previous facility simply could not accommodate, and light rail opens up a new world of dining and entertainment possibilities for attendees,” said Kevin Kamenzind, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Greater Phoenix CVB, in a press release.