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New Convention Center Nearly Complete

By Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News
Pre-construction artist rendering of the new Irving Convention Center (City of Irving photo)

Pre-construction artist rendering of the new Irving Convention Center (City of Irving photo)

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
Bud is the most veteran reporter at CBS 11 News with 42 years in m...
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The countdown is nearing completion for the new Irving Convention Center.

Construction is on schedule despite a “down” economy.  Local officials predict it will boost both the city’s image and local businesses’ cash registers.  The centerpiece is a 50,000 square foot exhibition hall, plus a ballroom, kitchens, restaurants, viewing areas and breakout rooms.  Bucking current trends, this convention center’s built up, not out.  With a copper skin gracing its exterior, city planners hope it’ll be iconic, creating industry buzz to go along with top-notch service.

“We really do have a very place-making destination-defining asset in our arsenal that we can go to the market and say, ‘This is a different place,’” Maura Gast, Executive Director of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau, tells CBS 11 news.

The visitors to the last public tour of the center Friday came in waves; some curious, some potential customers.   Folks from Conference USA, the college athletic conference, have offices next door and wanted to see what’s available.  “We bring in our Presidents,” says Conference USA’s associate director Kelly Carney, “we bring in coaching groups and to have something that’s close by, close by the airport, it’s really convenient for us.”

“Our goal is to fill our hotel rooms,” Irving Councilman Rick Stopfer tells CBS 11 News, “and this gives us an opportunity to bring events to the city, and by doing that we have the ability to fill our hotel rooms.”  He emphasized that the $160 million project is funded from the city’s hotel-motel tax.  And it should benefit from the new Dart Rail line being built through Irving.  “The Orange Line connects Love Field and DFW and comes through Irving, so we actually have a direct connect to both airports.”

Gast makes a further point.  “Hotels will benefit and airline companies will benefit, but bus companies will benefit and taxi companies benefit, and florists benefit, and dry cleaner companies benefit and suppliers of all sorts of food benefit.”  She adds, “It’s a very, very horizontal industry and it trickles to and through the community in a lot of ways people take for granted and really don’t understand.”

Florist Yoni Williams helps makes Gast’s point.  Williams owns the “Flowers For You” shop near Interstate 635 and MacArthur Boulevard, and she has a working relationship with numerous area hotels.   “It’s very exciting, the convention center’s coming in,” she tells CBS 11 News.  “It’ll bring a lot more people into town that means hotels going to fill up more, that means I might get to have more business.”

The convention center has already booked 86% of its goal for 2011.    It’s first public event is the January 27 Irving State of the City address.  According to Gast, the first center’s first convention is a Zestfest Spicy Foods Festival, followed by Super Bowl events, a gymnastics tournament, a “green” home building summit, and then an open house, all by February 19.