Convention center opening key in overall downtown Provo development

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

The "accessible" element benefits from nearly-completed I-15 reconstruction, plans for additional public transit that will connect downtown Provo with downtown Salt Lake City, and the recent addition of commercial airline service, by Frontier, directly to the Provo Municipal Airport.

Curtis said the commercial flights do more than bring airline passengers to town. "There's a pride factor for Provo, that we have our own airport with commercial flights."

The convention center's 85,578 square feet of meeting and garden space, 19,620 square feet of exhibit space and its 16,894 square-foot Grand Ballroom position the facility as larger than existing conference space in the Provo Marriott across the street and much, much smaller than the half-million square feet at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Racker said the new facility will rely heavily on the adjacent Marriott for guest rooms, but he is anxious to see new destination hotels downtown as well.

The public/private development strategy is that the existing Marriott will benefit from the adjacent, publicly financed convention center, and that the convention center will attract new, privately-financed hotel development. No new hotels are announced, but there are potential deals in play between developers and property owners, Racker said.

With more hotels, the convention center can expand. "The whole west side of the building is constructed of temporary material so this can be doubled in size," he said. "It's our intent to double the size in the next few years."

The majority of events already booked at the new convention center "peak at about 250 rooms a night and can be accommodated at the Marriott. But some need 700," Racker said. There are enough rooms in the county to accommodate that, but not within walking distance, which is what most convention planners want.

A county feasibility study projects hotels would capture 20 percent of the money conventioneers bring to town, retailers would take 15 percent and restaurants would capture 36 percent.

Racker expects the convention center will soon attract several dozen new restaurants, which will also help make downtown more interesting to locals.

"There really are a lot of things lining up to make Provo a destination," Racker said. "I think we're going to see our renaissance happen very soon."

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

Twitter: SteveFidel

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