When businesses and organizations consider Green Bay as a potential host city for their meeting or convention, there’s been something missing: a large exhibition space. That will change in 2021 when the new Brown County expo center opens adjacent to the Resch Center.
Located in Ashwaubenon, the planned $93 million center will replace the aging Shopko Hall and the Veterans Memorial Arena and include 120,000 square feet of exhibition space. Currently, there is about 43,000 square feet of expo space. Hotel room taxes will pay for the construction of the county-owned center.
“The expo center will be a tremendous complement to what we now have in the Green Bay area,” says Brad Toll, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have the KI Center and Radisson Convention Center, which are great spaces with carpeting and chandeliers, but the expo center will have a concrete floor and overhead lights.”
The multiuse expo center will be used for everything from traditional trade shows and boat shows to sporting events and special events like the “Antiques Roadshow,” says Beth Ulatowski, the bureau’s director of destination sales. The center will be the largest expo space north of Madison and Milwaukee.
“People have told us they love coming to Green Bay, but they won’t come back until we have more expo space,” she says. “This additional space is definitely needed.”
Toll says the center will be ideal for hosting wrestling matches, fencing competitions and other sports events. “We’ve hosted a cornhole championship, but we needed two sites to do it,” he says. “With the expo center, everything can be under one roof.”
In addition to the KI Convention Center downtown and the Radisson near the airport, the Lambeau Field Atrium is the Green Bay area’s other premium location to hold longer meetings and special events.
“Green Bay is a great community and destination that groups want to come to,” Ulatowski says. “The expo center is the missing piece we need to be more competitive. We’re very excited about it.”
Even though there isn’t a rendering yet for the center — that’s expected next spring or early summer — there already is some interest, Toll says.
“Events are planned out two to three years in advance. Once we have the rendering, it will be full speed ahead to start booking organizations and businesses,” he says.
Dream becomes reality
The $31.9 million Fox Cities Exhibition Center opened in downtown Appleton in January after years of discussion and planning. The 30,000-square-foot facility can be divided into three 10,000-square-foot areas and there’s another 17,000 square feet of outdoor space that also can be rented.
Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the center is drawing more interest in the Fox Cities as a destination for meetings and conventions.
“We have seen an uptick in interest from larger groups that before we did not have the space to accommodate,” she says. “It really provides us with increased diversity when it comes to available space.”
The center is connected via a skywalk to the Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley, which manages the site. The hotel, which switched from the Radisson brand last spring and is renovating its public spaces and guest rooms, offers another 40,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
Seidl says the exhibition center’s large, open space creates a “blank canvas” for any group looking to use it. “We definitely have more variety and flexibility with what the space can be used for.”
More than just events
While Oshkosh brands itself as Wisconsin’s Event City, the city maintains a growing meeting and convention business, says Amy Albright, executive director of the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We have a variety of venues that can host events from big to small,” she says. “Oshkosh has a lot of great selling points when it comes to hosting an event.”
The EAA grounds, for example, hosts the area’s largest convention — AirVenture has an annual economic impact of around $170 million in Oshkosh and surrounding communities, according to the most recent study — but they also are used throughout the year by a number of businesses and organizations, Albright says.
“You can hold large expos there, weddings, business outings or events using the grounds, such as the Bubble Run,” she says. “The grounds are versatile, and we’re fortunate to have them.”
The Menominee Nation Arena, which opened in the fall of 2017 and is home to the Wisconsin Herd basketball team, added to the city’s available offerings for event space, Albright says.
Beyond the arena and EAA, Oshkosh has a recently updated convention center with an attached hotel along with its expo grounds.
“We also have the university and all of those spaces — it is a tremendous bonus, especially the alumni center,” Albright says. “When our staff gets a request about having an event, we work with the different venues to find a place that will be the best fit.”
The sports angle
Youth sporting events are another convention of sorts — except they take place on the weekend and instead of people in business suits, attendees wear sports uniforms. A planned sports complex in Grand Chute is designed to bring even more athletic events to the area.
The 164,000-square-foot Fox Cities Champion Center will include a lobby area and three pods. One pod will have four basketball courts that can be converted into eight volleyball courts while a second pod will have an ice rink. The third pod will have an ice rink that can be converted into four basketball courts or eight volleyball courts depending on the need.
The $30.6 million facility will be owned by the Town of Grand Chute and financed through its Community Development Authority. Money for the project is coming from the Fox Cities Tourism Facilities Fund, which receives hotel and motel room tax revenues collected by Appleton, Grand Chute, Fox Crossing, Little Chute, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Menasha, Neenah, Sherwood and the Town of Neenah.
If all goes as planned, the Fox Cities Champion Center could open in the fall of 2019. Once open, the facility is projected to generate $8.9 million in direct spending during its first year of operation and $12 million annually by its fifth year, according to Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau projections.
While business activities keep area hotels busy during the week, the new sports complex and other youth sports facilities such as the Scheels USA Youth Soccer Complex keep hotels busy on the weekend, says Pam Seidl, executive director of the FCCVB.
“The exhibition center and meeting spaces are a nice complement to the sites that host youth sports tournaments,” she says.