MaryBeth Matzek: Convention centers hope crowds follow new construction

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

As the mysterious voice whispered in “Field of Dreams,” “If you build it, they will come.”

Several cities around Wisconsin are hoping that’s the case when it comes to their convention centers. In the past couple of years, convention centers in Oshkosh and in the Wisconsin Dells got updates and the KI Center in Green Bay is currently going through a $23 million expansion project taking that facility’s square footage to 145,000.

Supporters in Appleton and Milwaukee hope to follow suit with expansion projects of their own.

Nowhere may the battle tougher than in Appleton, which has mulling over proposals for several years. A private group, the Fox Cities Exhibition Center, unveiled plans back in 2010 to build a $27 million exhibition center adjacent to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton and paid for by a room tax. The city would own the center and the Radisson would manage it. Supporters point to a study by the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau that the center would bring in an additional $6.5 million annually to the area.

Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the expo center is “a missing piece” in the community’s offerings. While the Radisson has plenty of meeting space and a large ballroom for lunches and dinners, it lacks a large expo space for vendors.

Read her full column