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Convention Center A Welcome Door To City, State CENTER STAGE

May 9, 2005
Ben Seidel

When the Connecticut Convention Center opens on June 2, the state will finally enter the convention and trade show industry. It will introduce itself to a new tourism audience - one that focuses on group travelers, not independent travelers. It's a $45 billion domestic market that Connecticut had been shut out of because we lacked a center capable of hosting large meetings, trade shows and conventions.

But now the Connecticut Convention Center is the largest meeting and exhibition place between New York and Boston.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of group members and corporate executives drive through or fly over our state on their way to events in Boston, New York and Providence. They are spending their convention dollars in other Northeast cities - on hotel rooms, car rentals, restaurant meals, taxi service, entertainment. That makes a huge economic impact on a destination. For more than 20 years, Connecticut has been unable to take a competitive seat at this lucrative table.

The Connecticut Convention Center's size (540,000 square feet) and flexibility are its most important contributions to the state's economy. The sheer volume of meeting and exhibition space at the convention center is what allows Connecticut to compete with other cities and regions for these group travelers.

A first for Connecticut, the center offers 140,000 square feet of exhibition space - enough room for 800 trade show booths - as well as a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 25,000 square feet of meeting space, stunning skyline and riverfront views, dramatic public gathering places and an attached 409-room headquarters hotel, the new Marriott Hartford Downtown, to open later this summer.

Estimated to draw more than 250,000 people to Connecticut in its first year, the convention center is slated to host nearly 200 events.

Studies show that convention attendees stay an average of three days in their host city and spend an average of $260 a day. The spinoff from that kind of economic activity affects the entire state: Attendees will not limit their time here to Hartford alone. After discovering Hartford's rich history, culture, recreation and dining options, visitors will likely take day trips to other parts of Connecticut.

Longtime residents may not appreciate how rich our area is with interesting things to do, but the convention and meeting planners who have already selected Hartford have pointed to these treasures as part of the reason they selected our destination.

Connecticut can boast genuine heritage, world-class museums, arts and culture, craft centers, aquariums, championship golf courses, two of the largest casinos in the world, shoreline recreation, University of Connecticut sports, the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses, the Amistad, Mystic Seaport, Yale University - the list just keeps going on and on.

Add the diversity of Greater Hartford's restaurant scene, and many new and upgraded lodgings, and you can understand our city has a lot to offer this marketplace.

From outside Connecticut, Hartford is viewed as a great northeastern alternative to New York and Boston - more cost-effective, easy to get to and within a two-hour drive of 23 million people. For those national or regional associations that depend on annual meetings for much of their funding, Hartford's offerings can practically guarantee strong attendance - and that can be key in the conference selection.

Connecticut companies and organizations that have been forced to hold their meetings out of state because of the lack of convention space can now take advantage of an in-state location. The center's very first trade show, the Connecticut Xpo for Business, is now the second-largest business-to-business event in New England.

As people from out of state come here and discover Hartford, we may also see a new image of ourselves.

Ben Seidel is executive director of the Connecticut Convention Center. He will speak Tuesday at the MetroHartford Alliance's Rising Star Breakfast at the Hilton Hartford Hotel. For more information, call 728-2261.

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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