While Boston and Springfield, MA, opted to wait for state funds before beginning construction of new convention centers, the city council of Worcester, MA, made a gutsy move. It went ahead with a $39.5 million convention center project 42 miles west of Boston, funding it through private and city money, with only the promise of state funds.

The gamble has paid off. In September, several hundred people, including city and state dignitaries, gathered to celebrate the grand opening of Worcester's Centrum Centre. And the long-awaited funding bill passed the Massachusetts House and Senate this summer, with finalization of the bill expected soon.

"This building is open, and Boston hasn't broken ground. Springfield is not open," Worcester Mayor Raymond Mariano proclaimed to loud applause. "We don't celebrate simply the opening of a wonderful new building; we celebrate a new Worcester, a new confidence."

If early signs are any indication, the new center will fuel the economic growth that city leaders predict. About 100 events are booked for the first year. Both the Democratic and Republican state nominating conventions for 1998 will be held at the center--a precedent-setter, as it is unheard of for both parties to convene in the same city, said David A. Ferguson, executive director, Worcester County CVB.

The design of the center captures the city's hope and enthusiasm. Light pours through enormous windows, which stretch from the top of the building to the bottom. Displays of flowers and local artists' work, pastel-colored walls, and geometric-patterned carpets add to the airy, modern feel.

The 190,000-square-foot center features more than 139,000 square feet of meeting space, 11 meeting rooms, and a 12,000-square-foot ballroom. The new building is attached to the Worcester Centrum, a 14,500-seat arena, also available for meetings and exhibitions.

The new convention center, part of a $1 billion economic development plan for the city, includes Medical City, a hospital and medical center currently under construction across the street from the Centrum, and a renovation of Union Station, adjacent to the center. --Tamar Hosansky