Pittsburgh's new David L. Lawrence Convention Center is not one of the centers opening across the country with little business booked. Although the grand opening gala is scheduled for September, the center has been hosting groups since March, even though construction isn't complete. On the day of our press tour, construction was ongoing, forklifts were whizzing around the exhibit hall, and the whine of saws and metal cutting was deafening.

Meanwhile, we talked with one of the first meeting planners to use the entire new center: Nance Shields of the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Club Association, who was more than satisfied. “We were one of the groups outgrowing the old center and looking for a venue elsewhere,” says Shields. “We met here last month, filled the exhibit hall, and loved it.”

Greater Pittsburgh CVB's executive VP, Robert Imperata, says the CVB had hoped to attract 20 conventions to the facility for the last nine months of 2003. Instead, 27 booked — more than double the number the old center usually hosted. When it was obvious that the building wouldn't be finished in time for some events, they made sure all building safety regulations were met and then temporarily cleared construction for groups to use the center.

The new center is not an expansion — after as much was salvaged as possible, the old center was imploded and the cement and walls reused as a foundation, saving hundreds of thousands in landfill and materials' costs. That was the start of a “green” building with an exhibit hall and meeting rooms using daylight for illumination and outside air for heating and cooling.

Westin Hotels will hang its flag on a new 400- to 500-room convention hotel, to be built on the opposite side of the center from the existing 625-room Westin Hotel Pittsburgh Downtown, which is adjacent to the new center. All three facilities will be physically joined for a hotel/convention complex with more than 1,000 guest rooms.