On October 3, officials of St. Louis City and St. Louis County in Missouri announced the AC Next Gen project, which will update and expand the America’s Center Convention Complex.
Estimated to cost $275 million, the AC Next Gen project adds the following elements for conventions, trade shows, and other events taking place at the center:
• An additional 92,000 square feet of exhibit space, bringing the total to 594,000 square feet
•A new 65,000-square-foot multi-purpose ballroom, along with 20,000 square feet of pre-function event space
• 22,000 square feet of new support space to improve service access to all exhibit halls and ballrooms
• 26 new loading docks plus renovation of existing 12 docks so that all are enclosed
• An outdoor pavilion to serve convention attendees, and to improve the convention district's ambiance for area residents and businesses
• A fully refurbished Washington Avenue main entrance
These enhancements are projected to grow bookings by 35 percent, reversing the current decline in bookings at the center and generating $265 million of new direct economic spending for the community, according to project partner Johnson Consulting. At present, the complex (which also has an adjacent 67,000-seat dome that was once home to a pro football team) hosts about 100 events with more than 600,000 attendees annually.
A statement from Explore St. Louis, the city's destination marketing organization, noted that "the need to expand the complex has never been more urgent...the competitive landscape for meeting and events keeps increasing as cities throughout the Midwest continue to invest in their facilities." Recent investments have been made in convention and hospitality infrastructure in Columbus ($125 million), Indianapolis ($275 million), Louisville ($207 million), Nashville ($623 million), and San Antonio ($325 million). Further, all-new projects are underway in Lexington, Ky. ($230 million) and Oklahoma City ($288 million).
“The America’s Center plays a critical role as an economic driver for the entire region. It's a window for the hundreds of thousands of event attendees who visit us, hopefully [to be] inspired to return here for future leisure or business event purposes,” said Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis.
Through legislation proposed by elected officials in both St. Louis City and County, the project will most likely be paid for through hotel/motel taxes collected by St. Louis City and County. Those taxes were first earmarked for convention and hospitality infrastructure development in the early 1990s, when The Dome at America’s Center was built.
Timeline for completion of the project is unclear, as final approval must come from the legislature.
A video detailing the preliminary AC Next Gen project is available here.