Expanded Renasant Convention Center Lights up Memphis

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Expanded Renasant Convention Center Lights up Memphis

By Rich Luna | Nov 18, 2020

While the flip of a switch Wednesday night to turn on the exterior lights of Memphis’ Renasant Convention Center was ceremonial, the reality is that the $200 million expansion project is entering its final phases and is on track to be completed by the end of the year.

“This is such a transformation,” said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of Memphis Tourism, on Wednesday. “Memphis is probably a solid second-tier tourist town, but as a convention town we were probably a middle to lower-third-tier town because of our capabilities—not because meeting planners and groups didn’t want to be here but because of the hotel size and convention center shape and capabilities. We’ve addressed these issues. We didn’t make the building a lot bigger, but made it a lot more flexible, adaptable from the front of the house to the back of house.”

Rather than demolish the 40-year-old building, the city embarked nearly two years ago on an extensive renovation and expansion that will bring the facility up to 300,000 square feet. Features include:

  • An 118,000-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall, the largest in the region, which can sub-divide into three spaces
  • A 28,000-square-foot grand ballroom
  • An 18,000-square-foot junior ballroom
  • 46 meeting/breakout rooms
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows bringing in natural light and views of downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River
  • Luxury finishes and networking perks, including portable coffee bars and free wi-fi in public areas
  • Connectivity via an elevated walkway with the 600-room Sheraton Memphis Downtown, with an additional 300 guest rooms planned 

In addition, the convention center is connected to the 2,100-seat Cannon Center.

“This is not a renovation, it’s a transformation,” Kane said at the lightning ceremony. “Memphis is making progress.”

About 60,000 square feet of new space was added to the facility, said Alan Barner, project director of MFA. He said the major work has been completed and all that is left are items such as painting and carpet installation, which he added would move very quickly.

He added that the project with be completed “on time and in budget.”

Renasant CC tour

The Renasant Convention Center has already been GBAC STAR certified, providing third-party validation that ensures meeting and event facilities implement strict protocols for bio-risk situations.

The lighting of the building reflects an impressive run in the midst of a pandemic. Kane said 2019 was a record year, attracting 13 million visitors, and the city started the first two months of the year “very strong.”

But then “the world stopped. We were having a great year,” he said of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been devastating to the meeting, event and hospitality business.

Occupancy rates have started to show improvements, at 52 percent in October.

“We’ve come a long way from when we were in the high 20s when the [travel] world came to an end,” he said.

But the city has been able to invest heavily in infrastructure. The city is spending $300 million for improvements at the airport; $200 million at the convention center (funded through the Memphis and Shelby County hotel/motel tax and Tourism Development Zone); Hyatt is spending $175 million on hospitality and hotels; four new hotels have opened in the last eight months with two to three more under construction; and a Loews Hotel is in the works, although there have been snags that are being worked out. That spells optimism and opportunity for meeting and event planners in 2021.

“They told us ‘don’t tear this building down, you’ve got great bones here,’” Kane said. “We’ve addressed our deficiencies—the lack of breakout meetings rooms, lack of flexibility. We addressed back-of-house issues, which were very critical. With hotel-like finishes, it’s like a very nice large hotel conference center and that’s what people want in a building this size. There’s a lot of business for a convention center this size.”

Renasant Bank’s naming rights for the conference center runs for 10 years and gives the bank the option to extend the naming rights via an additional two, five-year terms. The naming rights agreement also provides guaranteed revenue for the city-owned building.

“Little did we know we’d be facing a global pandemic, but we’re here one year later and despite the pandemic we’re lighting the sign to brighten this city,” said Mitch Waycaster, president and CEO of Renasant Bank. “We affirm our commitment to seeing Memphis thrive. We’re ready to showcase this city together lighting the sign to help Memphis shine even better.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said that in the “midst of darkness that this year brought, there are still a few bright spots shining around us. This will be a building that all Memphians can be proud of and I think visitors will come back over and over.”

He also thanked Kane for “believing in Memphis.”

“Without his persistence, we could not have done this,” Strickland said. “This [lighting] event represents something bigger. It’s a strong remind that even in the midst of darkness there are still bright spots shining around us.”

 

Author

Rich
Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.