SAN ANTONIO – It’s here! The building that boasts the “largest ballroom in Texas” -- the newly expanded Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center -- is finished and ready to welcome bigger exhibitors and conference-goers.
In case you were wondering, the largest ballroom comes in at 54,000 square feet of space.
City leaders, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, city manager Sheryl Sculley, and Convention & Visitors Bureau director Cassandra Matej, unveiled the new space at a ceremony before hundreds of guests, convention center staffers and folks who helped construct the building.
The building boasts:
- 16.8 million pounds of steel
- 370 miles of electrical cable
- 116,680 square feet of ballroom level meeting and event space
This project was the largest capital improvement project ever in the city, and it’s having -- or is going to have -- a domino effect on redevelopment downtown.
The new Yanaguana Garden opened up last year and from what I can see, residents are really enjoying that place. I visited last year and it was definitely cool.
Hemisfair Park will grow into an even more expansive space as time goes on. Soon, the western portion of the convention center will be torn down to make way for another park, which will be called Civic Park.
Another park will also be added around the Tower of the Americas down the road.
Sculley said during the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday that the convention center expansion helped push along the realignment of Market Street.
A skeptical eye may be cast upon the city for this very expensive project. But with the city’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department overlooking every step of the expansion, and the use of hotel occupancy tax (HOT) funds, the convention center seems like it will be a real attraction for the city.
The project came in at $325 million and will support some 5,300 jobs. Matej told guests at the ceremony that it would have been difficult to hold on to dozens of the larger conventions that come to San Antonio because the old space was too small. She said the expansion allows the city to hang on to and add conventions to the CVB’s roster of meetings, which in turn will draw hundreds of thousands of additional tourists to town every year.
You may be like me and think it’s going to be a traffic nightmare! But I’m willing to sacrifice the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the Riverwalk if it means the city is doing what every good city does: Have people visit it.
Former Texas Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-District 20, said that his father -- for whom the convention center was named, and who preceded him in the District 20 seat -- would be proud. He said growing is what the convention center was meant to do in the first place.
Listen to a conversation I had with him after the ceremony.
I also spoke with Jason Bruges, a London-based artist whose work is featured around the world, about a new art installation that visitors will see when they first walk into the convention center. The installation, “Liquid Crystal,” is a 30-foot mirroring statue that films movement around it at the base and replays the movement through transparent liquid crystals.
Bruges said it’s the first time in the world that the technology has ever been used on an artwork. He said he got the idea for a reflection-type piece from the people and the famous Riverwalk, demonstrating how the people and water ebb and flow.
The convention center is also equipped with artwork on the outside. It's called "Cactus" and features 100,000 vinyl inserts that make up the images.
From the artwork to the grand ballrooms, exhibit halls and state-of-the-art facilities, it’ll be interesting to watch conventions, new and old, come to San Antonio because of this new center. I look forward to tracking which new groups come to the Alamo City, and how others that have long held conventions here view the change.
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