FREE-ASSOCIATING “Chattanooga” never got me past that song about the “choo-choo.” So a recent press trip was a real eye-opener.

With 298,000 square feet, the Chattanooga Convention Center is now nearly triple its original size. Exhibit space is up to 108,000 square feet from 50,000 square feet; there are 21 meeting rooms and six ballrooms; and 7,500 people can be accommodated theater-style. Entrances on opposite ends of the building permit hosting simultaneous, separate events. Although the center has T1 Internet access, wireless connectivity, and programmable lighting controls, the feature that gives it bragging rights is totally low-tech: natural light. Exhibitors work by natural light during setup and tear-down, and use less electricity during shows — a major cost savings. During audiovisual presentations, ceiling shades can be lowered to block the light. Huge windows brighten meeting rooms on the front of the building.

The 341-room Chattanooga Marriott Hotel, with 7,500 square feet of meeting space, is connected to the convention center. And opposite the center, the 124-room Staybridge Suites-Chattanooga opened last month.

On the reclaimed Tennessee Riverfront is the Bluff View Art District with museums, galleries, and restaurants. The Bessie Smith Performance Hall has 9,810 square feet of event space. Then there's the magnificently restored 1,762-seat Tivoli Theatre, on the National Register of Historic Places and available to groups.

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