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Convention Center Impresses Crowds

June 6, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer

For years, the most people could get was a glimpse of its construction from the highway, or a far away look from a street, most often diverted around it.

The Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford is now built, and open. On Sunday, the general public got to walk inside and have their say on the $271 million, skyline-altering project.

"It looks like a big ship," Evelyn Aviles, 47, of Glastonbury, said as she strolled though the glass-paneled atrium, her arm linked with her husband's.

Convention center officials estimate that 6,000 people went through the convention center doors during the five-hour open house on a warm Sunday. They came with cameras, water bottles and binoculars and wandered about the empty convention center. Most everyone craned their necks riding up the escalator.

When the opinions came, they were mostly through single words: "Look!" "Wow!" "Huge."

Since builders broke ground on the center in May 2001, the building has risen from a deep pit along the riverfront to a structure that is 124 feet high and the length of about three football fields. It is the largest convention center between New York and Boston.

Many who came Sunday said they'd been planning on it for years. "You see it in the distance, but you can't get close to it, and all of a sudden you can go here, you can park here, and you can look around," said Mikki Aganstata, 65, of Hartford.

"Rain or shine," said Joan Gervais, 70, of Hartford, "I knew I was coming."

Gervais attended the opening of Constitution Plaza when it opened decades ago, so it seemed fitting to see up close the newest addition to the city's architecture.

Her husband, Bob Lincoln, snapped photos of the new city skyline from the convention center's outdoor walkway. He angled his camera just so, to include the convention center and the adjacent Marriott hotel in the shot.

"This is the best view you can get," said Chance Carter, 10, of Hartford, a self-described lover of architecture who said he begged his mother to take him to the open house Sunday.

"You have a view of Travelers there, a view of East Hartford and a view of downtown," Chance said as he stood in the center of the atrium.

There were no exhibitions Sunday inside the 140,000-square-foot hall. That didn't deter people from roaming the empty concrete-floored room, assessing its potential.

"Frankly, I don't like the sound system," said Sherman Paul, shortly after a band warmed up inside the vacant room. "I think they'll need better sound control, particularly when it's full of exhibits."

Most spectators entering the room stepped in and halted suddenly, as if stopped by a force shield. Then they looked around and took in the room's size.

"You could do bicycle races and everything in here," one man at the doorway said to his friend.

Will D'Aquila, 75, of West Hartford, said that the convention center was a hit. His only critique: the absence of "Front Street," the planned entertainment and retail complex that was supposed to have opened across the street from the convention center.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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