Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, may be best known as home to the largest indoor water park in the U.S., but its newly expanded convention center is the big story these days. The resort officially debuted results of the 10-month, $22 million project in January.

The 120,000-square-foot addition more than doubles the size of Kalahari’s existing convention center, increasing the total square footage to 215,000, all of it on a single floor. The jewel of the project is a 38,000-square-foot ballroom, which can accommodate up to 2,620 guests banquet-style and up to 3,800 theater-style. The space can be divided into six and is so large that it dwarfed a tractor-trailer parked there during the January 10 event.

A second ballroom offers 17,200 square feet, with banquet seating for up to 1,184 and theater seating for up to 1,900. Custom-designed lights, design accents, and artwork carry the resort’s African theme throughout the convention center.

In addition, Kalahari’s convention center houses a variety of flexible spaces, including

  • 39 function rooms,
  • 30,000 square feet of prefunction space,
  • four junior ballrooms, and
  • four African-themed octagonal huts for social events and meetings.

In the back of the house, eight loading bays can be accessed simultaneously; two are enclosed drive-in docks that can accommodate equipment and vehicles as large as 20 feet wide by 24 feet high. The loading area includes a 30-foot-by-60-foot indoor wash bay.

As one might expect, the expansion included all the latest technology bells and whistles, from complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the resort to a built-in digitized sound system, interactive whiteboards, and high-definition projectors. The space is also equipped with thoughtful amenities such as electronically secure built-in bars and registration areas as well as satellite warming kitchens to enhance food and beverage service.

The expansion was a response to requests by groups that liked the property but needed more capacity, Kalahari Resorts, Chief Operating Officer Josef Haas explained during the opening ceremonies.

Also new to the Sandusky Kalahari Resort are six private Ny-Um-Ba entertainment villas. These 4,100-square-foot, two-story villas can sleep up to 22 in five bedrooms and contain fully equipped kitchens and comfortable living spaces. They have been so popular with retreats and family groups that more are likely to be built, said David Friedberg, director of sales.

The scope of activities, both at the resort and nearby, appeals to many meeting attendees, who bring their families along and tack a day on to their visit, Friedberg said.

Meeting planners can choose from a menu of customized teambuilding exercises at Kalahari that includes a high ropes course, climbing walls, laser tag, interactive cooking demos, indoor theme park Olympic games, and more. Besides teambuilding, sessions can focus on leadership, communications, creative problem-solving, conflict resolution, stress reduction, strategic planning, and time and resource management.

The Sandusky Kalahari property sits midway between Cleveland and Toledo and is a high-demand leisure destination during warmer months; another Kalahari Resort is located in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

Opened in 2005, the Sandusky Kalahari Resort has spent about $200 million on expansions and improvements over the last six years, Haas said. Today, the sprawling complex includes 890 guest rooms, the 173,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, an outdoor waterpark, a full-service spa, a safari outdoor animal adventure park, and a 12,000-square-foot game arcade and activity area. A variety of on-site dining, shopping, and entertainment options are available as well.

The expanded convention enter has had the desired impact, Friedberg said. “About 80 percent of our clients end up booking with us after seeing the property,” he noted.