A building frenzy over the past two years has enabled Toronto to offer planners four full-fledged convention centers--two are downtown and two are convenient to Pearson International Airport.

The newest space opened July 1 at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre. The three-level, underground expansion, which opened south of the existing facility, has increased exhibit space to nearly 460,000 square feet (divisible into seven halls), 250,000 of which is column-free. There are now 70 meeting rooms, ranging from 500 square feet to 10,000 square feet (all equipped for simultaneous translation), plus two carpeted ballrooms (28,000 and 50,000 square feet) and a 1,330-seat multipurpose auditorium.

Don't be put off by the idea of burrowing underground. There is a cheery street-level ceremonial entrance to the new halls, featuring a whimsical floor inlaid with designs of gigantic frogs and turtles. A 30-foot-by-60-foot skylight brightens the registration and prefunction areas. The facility is close to the CN Tower and the Skydome, is connected to public transit by a glass-enclosed skywalk, and is directly linked to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

This opening followed hot on the heels of the April opening of the new National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place. Built in the 1930s as a European-style fairground, Exhibition Place has a massive, triple-arched stone entry, complete with statuary and billowing flags.

The four new exhibit halls that compose the National Trade Centre are in sharp contrast to the older exhibit areas. Ceiling heights are 47 feet to 60 feet, and the soaring, curving, glass-walled lobby runs the length of the new halls. A courtyard links old and new structures, and the new halls plus the courtyard add 409,080 square feet of exhibit space. With the 24 meeting rooms, a 6,200-seat arena, and a 100-seat theater, the facility now totals 1,072,000 square feet.

International Centre, which is barely five minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from downtown, hosts more of the country's top ten shows than any other competing venue. The opening last August of a 65,000-square-foot, column-free hall brought the total exhibit space to 468,000 square feet in ten interconnecting halls, the largest of them 95,000 square feet. Because all space is on ground level, there is unlimited floor-load capacity. Twelve meeting rooms accommodate board meetings of 10 to 24 persons or banquets for up to 140 persons.

Also near the airport is the two-year-old Toronto Congress Centre, offering two distinct facilities under one roof. Six continuous exhibit halls can accommodate 2,000 ten-foot-by-ten-foot booths. Adjacent to the exhibit halls is a conference complex. Its 13 meeting rooms and ballroom, which can accommodate groups of 10 to 1,200, feature good soundproofing, adjustable lighting, and videoconferencing capabilities.