To hear Kitty Ratcliffe tell it, the America’s Center Convention Center in downtown St. Louis has had a good run since it first opened in 1977 – and since it grew bigger with the addition of the Dome in 1995. But now, she says, the 42-year-old complex needs some major attention – to the tune of $175 million in upgrades and expansion.
“[America’s Center] was not really purposely designed as that entire complex [that it is today] – it’s really three different pieces that don’t really work all that well,” Ratcliffe told host Don Marsh during Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And what we’ve seen in the last decade or so is that every major city that we compete against has either built a new building, like Nashville did, where they built a $623 million, brand-new convention center downtown, or has made major improvements to theirs. San Antonio spent $325 million, as an example.”
A $175 million proposal that would upgrade America’s Center in downtown St. Louis has already received the endorsement of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. The topic was also on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the St. Louis County Council, which perfected the bill relating to the proposal’s authorization.
Ratcliffe, who is president of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Convention, also known as Explore St. Louis, said the plan is key to sustaining and growing the complex’s current amount of business and visitor traffic.
“On an average, we have $265 million of new money that’s coming into St. Louis every year from conventions at America’s Center,” Ratcliffe said, adding that about half of that sum is spent on hotels, with the remainder going to restaurants, transportation, entertainment and other area services and purchases.
The plans call for a much larger ballroom that would be in keeping with competing cities’ facilities –ballrooms that span between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet, Ratcliffe said. The existing America’s Center ballroom is about 28,000 square feet.
Also proposed, among other changes, is a new green space – a public park that would sit immediately west of the convention center, between 9th and 10th streets.
At present, the complex is abutted on all sides by city thoroughfares.
“What we need to do [is] create some outdoor convening space so that people who are there, who want to sit outside, who want to have an event outside, who want to just take a walk, get some fresh air [have] a place to do that right outside,” Ratcliffe explained, “and not have to go several blocks to the great space, which is the Arch grounds, which is wonderful. But if you’re just on a short break between sessions, you don’t have time to make that walk.”
The talk show segment with Ratcliffe also included comments from a Washington Avenue business owner and two people who work for companies near the convention center.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.
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