Convention Center opens economic doors


While politicians and dignitaries rub elbows today at the dedication of Spokane’s $75 million Convention Center expansion, tourism officials will be hard at work using the building for its intended purpose – attracting additional visitor dollars to the city.

National meeting planners representing nine organizations that are considering holding conventions in Spokane are attending today’s ceremonies. If all were to say yes to Spokane, the conventions would represent an additional infusion of more than $12 million in visitor dollars to the Spokane economy over the next six years.

“We can stop talking and let them soak it all in and believe it for themselves,” said Keith Backsen, vice president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They get here and they can see it firsthand.”

After years of planning and two years of construction, the Group Health Exhibit Hall will be celebrated today and Thursday with a building dedication, public tours and other events. Built along the Spokane River on the east end of downtown, the 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall is within walking distance of Riverfront Park, shops, restaurants and hotels. Its size nearly triples Spokane’s exhibit hall space and positions the region to attract more national convention business.

One of the meeting planners attending today’s dedication represents an event that would bring an estimated $2.5 million to the city. He is trying to decide whether to hold his February 2007 event here or in Pittsburgh. His event would require 1,800 hotel rooms, spread from Airway Heights to Liberty Lake, said Backsen, who declined to name the event for competitive reasons.

Also attending grand opening events will be three writers for national trade magazines that focus on the convention industry. Exposure like that goes a long way toward overcoming Spokane’s relative obscurity on the national convention scene, Backsen said.

“We’ve never gotten any of these writers here before,” Backsen said. “That is right at the market I need us to get our name in front of.”

This week’s grand opening celebrations have been months in the making. State and local politicians will make speeches and unveil an official dedication plaque. Jazz bands will play as visitors stroll past 30-foot-high windows with views of the Spokane River. Visitors will learn about the building from about 50 volunteers staffing 12 explanatory stations during self-guided tours. The volunteers come from organizations including the CVB, the Spokane Public Facilities District, building sponsor Group Health and project architect Integrus Architecture.

Visitors will see, for the first time, a newly installed memorial to Spokane businessman Luke Williams, whose chairmanship of the Washington State Exhibit during Expo ‘74 was critical in delivering the original Spokane Convention Center and Opera House, now called the INB Performing Arts Center. That memorial is installed in the Ag Trade section of the Convention Center.


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