In marveling at the feat of completing construction of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in an ambitious 15-month timeframe, it’s easy to forget the idea for the project has been percolating for more than 30 years.
The grand opening celebration Jan. 11 will mark the realization of that long-held vision. Karen Harkness, director of community and economic development for the City of Appleton, says the project, funded through a hotel room tax in 10 Fox Cities communities, is a testament to regional collaboration.
“We’re really excited to get people in there to see the facility and walk around and begin to visualize their use of that facility,” she says.
Doors will open to the public at 5 p.m., and the celebration includes a ribbon cutting, welcoming speech, and guided and self-guided tours.
The facility offers more than 38,000 square feet of flexible space, and its outdoor plaza on the upper deck offers an additional 17,000 square feet, including anchors for tents. The outdoor pavilion is available for rent for private events, says Linda Garvey, newly appointed general manager for the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, which manages the center.
“The building itself is just incredible for its versatility and its appearance,” Garvey says of the exhibition center, which is built into the landscape of Jones Park and features an 82-foot spire. Miron Construction Co. Inc. managed construction for the project.
“This was a unique project in that before we even began building the exhibition center, we needed to remove more than 82,000 cubic yards of earth to build the space into the side of a hill, all while working through Wisconsin weather,” Miron Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Kippenhan wrote in an emailed statement. “We are very proud of all parties involved who have helped us deliver this project on time.”
Renovations are underway at the Paper Valley as well, which will receive an interior and exterior facelift. A more contemporary look will replace the hotel’s iconic canopy. Indoors, the hotel is adding new carpeting, tile and wall treatments in its public spaces and meeting rooms, much of which complements the décor in the adjoining exhibition center. Public space renovations are set to be completed by Jan. 11.
Garvey says the exhibition center has 20 bookings extending through 2020 and prospects through 2024, and she’s receiving new inquiries every day. She says the space is ideal for events such as trade shows, conferences and rallies.
Many event and meeting planners want to see the space before committing, Garvey says, and she anticipates bookings to begin heating up early next year once the space is more accessible for tours. The Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau recently hosted a hard hat fam tour for 50 planners. Garvey anticipates booking events from around the state and Midwest.
Pierce Manufacturing was the first company to book an event at the facility. It will hold its North American sales meeting at the venue beginning Jan. 25. Other bookings include a spa show and home show, and a prescreening event for the Appleton-themed episode of “Around the Corner with John McGivern,” a PBS television show.
In addition to coming to the grand opening, Garvey says people can experience the space through public events held at the facility and attractions such as Mile of Music and concerts in Jones Park.
Garvey says the exhibition center brings something the region has long needed.
“Conferences have been passing up this area and going to other municipalities around the state,” she says. “It will be great to get back into rotation on some of those conferences.”