The City of Green Bay is definitely hoping bigger is better.
Construction crews began work late last year to expand the KI Convention Center with the goal of attracting larger gatherings and making Green Bay a contender for national conventions. The $23 million expansion is adding 30,700 square feet of new meeting space, including a new ballroom.
When work is done in June 2015, the KI will have nearly 80,000 square feet of meeting space and will be able to accommodate groups of up to 3,000 people, says Brad Toll, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“We do a great job with regional events, but we heard for years that we weren’t big enough and we lost out on some state groups that simply outgrew our space,” he says. “The expansion will allow us to serve our current customers, win back the ones we lost, and go out and recruit new ones.”
The center already has recruited its first new national convention – the Groundwater Protection Council, which is based in Oklahoma City, will hold its national convention in Green Bay in September 2016.
Conventions are big business as attendees fill hotel rooms, put gas in their vehicles, go out to eat, and shop. With the KI twice as large, an estimated 70,000 additional visitors will come to Green Bay annually, creating 450 jobs and $25 million in annual economic impact, says Harry Maier, chair of the Green Bay Redevelopment Authority. The bulk of the project is being funded by city-issued bonds with Brown County, the State of Wisconsin and the furniture maker KI also contributing funds, he adds.
As part of the expansion, a 24,500-square-foot ballroom and three new meeting rooms will be added. Toll says the ballroom is important because it will provide a separate space where attendees can eat instead of having to use the main expo hall as they do now.
“Right now, if we serve a lunch, we have to turn over the space quickly if we need it for meeting space or as an area for exhibits,” he says. “You need to put down different flooring, put up pipe and drape. By having this separate ballroom, we will have more options of how the space is used.”
The expansion will be built over Adams Street and the Clarion Hotel’s parking lot. Maier says the Clarion will be connected to the convention center and become an anchor on the west end. On the other side, the KI is already connected to the Hyatt on Main hotel.
Although the KI is expanding, it is still smaller than convention centers in downtown Milwaukee and Madison and the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in the Wisconsin Dells. Other top convention sites in the state are the La Crosse Center and the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva.
Toll says Green Bay has a lot to offer meeting planners looking for a unique location for their events. “Everyone knows who the Green Bay Packers are and people have heard of Green Bay, so that raises our profile a bit,” he says. “We’ve been at some national trade shows and people said they were interested in coming to Green Bay, but we didn’t have the space to accommodate them.”
That will change when the expansion opens. Toll says the KI is aggressively being marketed for national events and a new website is in the works to tout the center’s expansion.
“We are active in the Chicago area, meeting with planners, and are looking to do something in the Madison area too. We talk not only about the KI, but also the renovations at Lambeau Field, what’s happening at the Radisson near the airport and other unique qualities our city has to offer,” Toll says.
When event planners look at locations, they first want to make sure there is enough space and then look at hotel accommodations. After that, they look at what makes a site unique, he says.
“In Green Bay, we have that in spades. There’s a lot we can offer beyond just something at Lambeau,” Toll says. “If the weather is nice, we could do something on City Deck or at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens or at the NEW Zoo. The possibilities are endless.”
Fox Cities makes progress on Expo plan
Proponents of a Fox Cities Exhibition Center connected to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel are moving forward to make the project happen despite a few setbacks, including an initial rejection of the draft lease agreement by the hotel’s owner.
The update to the feasibility study was one of the components needed to move forward, says Karen Harkness, director of community development of the City of Appleton. The Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau funded an update to the market analysis section of the feasibility study and presented findings and recommendations to the public in late April.
Supporters also are looking at an alternative funding structure for the project, Harkness says.
“We need to have patience,” Harkness says. “There are a lot of moving parts with this economic development project. It certainly is an economic benefit for the community, and things are moving forward.”
For more on convention growth in the New North, see “Let’s meet again”.
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Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau