Spokane Journal of Business

Big expectations for big expansion at the Spokane Convention Center

Development brings exhibit hall space to 100,000 square feet

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-—Katie Ross
Workers prepare and hang new glass panels on the Spokane Convention Center expansion. Extending north, the new space is designed to connect the building to the river.
-—Katie Ross
Construction personnel have been working the last few weeks to complete the installation of 550 glass panels to enclose the Convention Center’s exhibit hall expansion. The overall $50 million project is expected to be completed by next spring.

The first phase of the $50 million, 92,000-square-foot Spokane Convention Center expansion project should be completed by mid-December, says the Spokane Public Facilities District. 

Construction began on the project roughly a year ago, says Clancy Welsh, president of Garco Construction. Final completion is estimated for March 2015. 

The first phase of the project includes the construction of more exhibit hall space on the north side of the second floor of the convention center, as well as construction of a 10,000-square-foot “green roof” area outside the expanded hall.

The big push in the last few weeks has involved installing 550 glass panels that enclose the expanded space. 

The 20,000-square-foot expansion will bring the total area of the Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall A to 55,000 square feet, says Kevin Twohig, CEO of the Public Facilities District, and bring the facility’s total exhibit hall space to about 100,000 square feet.  

“Overall, the facility is approaching half a million square feet,” Twohig says. 

Welsh says workers will be placing layers of waterproof membranes and topsoil on the green roof soon, before the native plants are planted next spring. The green roof will add some insulation to the rooms below it, he says. Also, if not for the green roof, the area would have thrown glare back onto the glass windows of the exhibit hall, Welsh says. 

The newly expanded exhibit hall will host a co-ed adult volleyball tournament called the Spokane Sizzler on Jan. 2 and 3, Twohig says. In February, the Agricultural Expo will converge on the entire facility, Twohig says. 

“They’ll take every square inch we have in the building,” he says.

Several large events are being planned at the newly expanded facility next year. The facility will host the PNQ Volleyball Tournament in March 2015, which the facilities district estimates will result in 10,500 room nights and $10 million in economic impact. 

Next August, the Convention Center will host the Sasquan World Science Fiction Convention, which the facilities district estimates will result in just over 5,000 room nights and more than $12 million in economic impact.  

The second phase of the construction project includes building a new 12,000-square-foot Centennial Ballroom, which will be located on the first floor of the Convention Center below the expanding exhibit hall. The ballroom also will have a patio area that opens out to the Centennial Trail, Twohig says. 

“We really wanted to connect this building to the river,” he says.

The Centennial Ballroom is slated to be completed in January, Twohig says. 

“Some of the functions that move around the city and always want to be somewhere new will be here in early 2015,” Twohig says.  

The Convention Center currently has two ballrooms, one with 25,000 square feet of space and the other with 17,000 square feet, Twohig says. 

“This will be the smallest ballroom, but it’s the only one connected to the exhibit halls,” Twohig says. 

All the ballrooms are divisible, Twohig says, meaning they can be made smaller with movable walls. 

Twohig says that the facilities district and Garco have worked together on a design-build system for the project. Twohig estimates using that process has shaved about six months off the project. 

“We’ve made a ton of changes as we’ve moved along,” he says. 

A major construction project nearby that also is making good progress is the $135 million, 716-room Grand Hotel Spokane, at 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., across the street from the Convention Center. The hotel is owned by Walt and Karen Worthy, of the Davenport Hotel Collection. It’s slated to be completed next summer and will connect to the Convention Center via a skywalk.

Twohig says the facilities district estimates that the expansion project has generated 400 jobs, either directly working on the expansion or associated with it. He says the district estimates those jobs will transition into new positions once the expansion is complete, between the staff needed for the Convention Center itself, the new hotel, the adjacent DoubleTree Hotel Spokane City Center, and other businesses that work on events at the center. 

Twohig also credits the expansion project with driving the growth of projects surrounding it, such as the new Spokane Grand Hotel. 

“We’re not by far the only generator, but we kind of pushed it,” he says. “I think it’s stimulated everything around us.”

Construction also has begun on the $1.5 million skywalk to connect the new hotel to the Convention Center, Twohig says. The skywalk is to be set in place on Dec. 7, he says. 

The facilities district and Garco worked with two design firms on the project, ALSC Architects, of Spokane, and LMN Architects, of Seattle, Twohig says. Voters approved a funding measure for the project in 2012. The measure also included about $3.5 million to replace all the seats in Spokane Arena and add padding to some of the lower seats. 

Meanwhile, Visit Spokane also is preparing for the completion of the project. Tim Robinson, spokesman for the organization, says that it’s currently in some level of negotiation with 70 groups about bringing their meeting or convention to Spokane in the next few years. Robinson declines to name the groups specifically, as the organization is still competing for business. 

Robinson says the groups that are interested in the new Convention Center are mostly from industries that were interested in Spokane before, but perhaps couldn’t find the space here. 

“What we’re noticing is that we’re getting renewed interest from groups that have looked elsewhere because Spokane wasn’t the right fit for them,” Robinson says. “Now that they know the expansion is coming online shortly, and the hotel, we’re getting interest … some of them are bigger, it might have been a size issue before. Or, they might have wanted rooms that were connected, and with the new Davenport (hotel) and the DoubleTree, it might be enough.”

Robinson says that Visit Spokane doesn’t anticipate any occupancy issues with the Convention Center expansion finishing up before the Grand Hotel Spokane.  

“The thing to keep in mind is the horizon, that length of time between talking about booking something and when it’s actually arriving in town,” he says. “So yes, the Convention Center is going to be done in late December to January, but it doesn’t mean boom, it’s going to be filled.”

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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