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Convention Center reborn

About this time last year, interior designer Robin Dalton snapped photos of Spokane’s downtown riverfront in its spring wardrobe.

Back in her Seattle studio at LMN Architects, she created a color palette of the landscape’s subtle greens, blues and browns. Those hues now grace the walls, floors and other features of the newly remodeled Spokane Convention Center.

Set to officially open this week, the building received a $9.7million facelift and expansion, jointly designed by LMN Architects and Integrus Architecture, of Spokane.

Constructed for Expo ‘74, the building has 68,000 square feet of floor space, which includes an addition of about 14,000 square feet.

With its completion, visitors can view the scenery that helped inspire it through freshly exposed glass walls and walkways.

The building adjoins the new, elliptical Group Health Exhibit Hall, opened just in time for the January U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Together, the two structures make up the Convention Center.

Johnna Boxley, the Convention Center’s general manager, said even though she’s seen the original building’s gradual transformation, begun in July, she’s still taken with how well it turned out.

“It’s classy … and upscale without being froufrou,” Boxley said. “There are lots of clean lines, not a lot of ornateness,” Boxley said.

Once just a standard “big box” of exhibit halls and ballrooms, the building today resembles public spaces common to fine hotels and civic centers, Boxley said.

Among the major changes:

•The former 38,000-square-foot exhibit hall is reconfigured as a nearly 25,000-square-foot ballroom with an 8,500-square-foot lobby large enough for receptions and food service stations.

•A 13,500-square-foot second-story addition has six meeting rooms with lobby space overlooking the ballroom lobby.

•The original staircase has been eliminated, opening the lobby and formerly obscured windows that showcase the Spokane River and Centennial Trail.

•A basement kitchen has been moved to the first floor near the loading dock, and its former quarters will be used as storage space.

•The breezeway lobby has been enlarged and an elevator installed. Rooms and halls got fresh paint, carpet and signs.

“Now that we’ve tripled the size of our building, it allows us to go after bigger business” such as national conventions, said Keith Backsen, vice president of sales for the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, who included the construction of the exhibit hall in that approximation. He oversees convention bookings.

In the past, national business accounted for 15 percent to 18 percent of the activity booked in the original 57,000-square-foot Convention Center.

Based on bookings, officials estimate more than $130 million in economic impact from events scheduled at the Convention Center through 2013, and most of that – about $70 million – will come from events that were too big for the facility in the past, Boxley said.

In addition, the Convention Center can “stack” multiple events in the building for the first time.

When it comes to being a host city, Spokane is joining the same league as Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, San Jose, Portland and Tacoma, Backsen said.

Ed Clark is a Spokane native with more than three decades of marketing, advertising and public relations experience. He sat on a 1990s advisory committee that foresaw the need to expand and remodel the Convention Center. And he worked on the advertising campaign that helped persuade residents to pass the bond issue to cover it.

He said the Convention Center, fine dining, shopping, lodging and recreational opportunities have become a formidable magnet to tourists.

“Our facilities are up and running, and they’re first-class,” Clark said. “This is not the town I grew up in. It’s emerging all the time and getting more and more exciting.”

Kevin Twohig, executive director of the Public Facilities District, which oversees the Convention Center, said he’s impressed at how well the remodel meets the aesthetic bar set by the exhibit hall.

“When we opened the exhibit hall, the architecture was so striking and so beautiful, I wasn’t really convinced we could” maintain that in the Convention Center’s remodel. “But now that I’ve seen what they’ve designed, I’m even more impressed. It’s even more an example of great architectural work and great construction.”

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