Open for business

Leaders anticipate reaping benefits from exhibition center

Posted on Feb 1, 2018 :: New North , Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Sometimes you need the last minute to get everything just right.

That certainly seemed true last month as representatives from Fox Cities governments and tourism agencies scurried about the Fox Cities Exhibition Center preparing for a grand unveiling, first to a group of VIPs, then to the public. After 30 years of waiting, cajoling, pleading and wrangling the project to completion, they used all those final moments to make sure nothing was out of place.

0218_Upfront_2“I think the final truck and construction crew left just about 10 minutes ago,” Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna said as he watched the media and early birds getting a preview before the grand opening. “Some materials were still arriving just a few days ago.”

It turns out they would need every last second. Just 10 days separated the grand opening and the venue’s first major event, and the list of events coming up continues to grow.

“We have more than 20 events already booked,” says Linda Garvey, general manager of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, which manages the exhibition center. She conservatively estimated those 20 events would result in at least 4,000 additional hotel room stays in the Fox Cities.

The $31 million facility was constructed into the hillside of Jones Park, which will be renovated and reopened in 2019. Connected by a skywalk to the Paper Valley Hotel, the exhibition center houses more than 37,000 square feet of exhibition space, with more than 9,000 square feet of lobby and multipurpose areas.

The center also boasts 17,000 square feet of outdoor plaza space that can be used for events.

The structure is crowned by an 82-foot spire symbolizing the first hydroelectric plant operating on the Fox River in 1882. It can be lighted with different colors for events or holiday seasons.

0218_Upfront_3Pierce Manufacturing held its North American sales conference at the venue Jan. 25-28, the first major event the facility hosted. It drew more than 500 to the Fox Cities. Several other high-profile events are scheduled to follow, including the Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism, which will draw more than 1,000 tourism professionals to the Fox Cities for three days from March 11-13.

“When folks come and are treated well, they want to come back,” says Stephanie Klett, Wisconsin’s secretary of tourism. “Tourism is business. The taxes generated by tourism help to pay police, educators and for health care.”

Using the industry benchmark of a convention attendee spending $150 a day, the tourism conference will create an economic impact of roughly $450,000 during its run. Those are dollars that would not have been generated prior to completion of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center.

The exhibition center has been projected to generate an additional $6.5 million in economic activity for the region each year.

Appleton featured in PBS’ “Around the Corner”

Appleton Downtown Inc. hosted the premiere of an Appleton-centered episode of PBS television show “Around the Corner with John McGivern” at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in January. About 700 people attended the premiere of the episode, which has since been shown on Wisconsin Public Television.

A film crew joined Emmy Award-winning actor McGivern during his visit to Appleton in June. They set the scene with historical perspective of the city, visiting the Lawrence University campus and the Hearthstone Historic House Museum. They shot the Bratzooka at a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game, toured the Fox Locks and stopped at the History Museum at the Castle for a glimpse of Harry Houdini’s magic tricks.

Businesses featured included Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., Urban Evolutions, Rogeri Violin, Henry’s Buff & Shine, Eco Candle Company, Lombardi’s Steak House and Cozzy Corner.

McGivern, who has been featuring 13 Wisconsin cities each year in the Milwaukee Public Television series since 2011, wrapped up with an interview with Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna.

The episode can be seen online at