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700 See Convention Center View

Riverfront Recapture Parties In Nearly Finished Building

April 17, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

More than 700 people showed up to celebrate the annual Riverfront Recapture fundraiser and got a "sneak peek" at the convention center Saturday night, paying to be among the first to mingle in the heart of the state's Adriaen's Landing downtown development project.

The Big Mo' is an annual fundraiser that celebrates the region's progress. Now in its sixth year, the event is traditionally hosted at a site of construction or renovation. Saturday was the public debut for the $230 million, 1.6 million-square-foot convention facility that is one of a series of projects aimed at bringing new life to the city. Those attending paid either $150 or $250 per person for tours, views of the river, food and drink.

Guests taking tours met the facility's executive chef, who showed them industrial-size cookware, soup vats and unopened boxes of flatware that will first be put to use May 31 at a banquet for 2,000 employees.

Then, after a walk through the service areas, the tours progressed to the 40,000-square-foot ballroom that can fit up to 2,300 people for dinner. They then passed a mezzanine with a view of what will one day be the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration.

Next came a view of the new Marriott Hotel and a look at the unfinished "retail and residential" space formerly known as Front Street. Finally, after tours of two boardrooms, guests made it to the cocktail hour.

But not everything was completed Saturday. Carpet fuzz stuck to shoes, some escalators were not ready to escalate and much was still a work in progress.

"This is nuts!" said Ben Seidel, executive director of the center. "It's like opening a store to customers before the store is ready to be opened."

But guests seemed to enjoy themselves, Seidel said.

"Any questions?" he asked a group.

"Wow," said one woman as others exhaled.

"Is this the largest in the United States?" asked another woman.

"No," Seidel answered. "But it isn't supposed to be."

Later, as guests mingled to the sounds of bagpipes and quiet jazz - some in festive attire and a few in hard hats - they relaxed.

"The convention center and hotel are a magical first step," said Don Wilson of Riverfront Recapture's board. "And I love it."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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