NEW CINCY STATE OF MIND: A rendering shows what the Duke Energy Convention Center will look like in late 2025. (Courtesy venue)

Renovation’s goal is Modernization for Growing Cincinnati

The $200 million renovation of the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, aims to bring an improved user experience, as opposed to simply adding more space, says Julie Calvert, president and CEO of Visit Cincy.

The facility, which dates to 1967 with several expansions and renovations since, is moving its management contract to ASM Global from VenuesNow parent company Oak View Group, which picked up the business with its acquisition of Spectra. The renovation will break ground in July with completion targeted for late 2025.

“With the reinvention, repositioning of the center, there’s about $49 million in new business a year that we can bring in and we believe that number will grow with the quantity of conventions, the quality of the conventions,” Calvert said. “It’s a $200 million project that, with that type of economic impact, will pay for itself.”

By Calvert’s reckoning, the ROI will surpass 100% in four to five years.

OLD CINCY: The Cincinnati Convention-Exposition Center opened in 1967 with 95,000 square feet of exhibition space and 27 meeting rooms. Total cost: $10 million, about $95 million in today’s dollars. (Courtesy venue)

The upcoming renovation follows others.

In 1984, 275,000 square feet was added to the existing 95,000 and three years later the facility was renamed the Albert B. Sabin Convention and Exposition Center. Sabin developed an oral polio vaccine while at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. That year skywalks to parking and hotels was added.

In 2006, 200,000 square feet were added and the building reopened as the Cinergy Center. Also that, year, Spectra was selected to manage the facility, which had its name changed to Duke Energy Center.

SHOWING OUT: A boat show fills the exhibition floor at the Duke Energy Center. (courtesy venue)

Speaking of the coming improvements, Calvert said, “We’re adding about 13,000 square feet of space where we’re bringing the exhibit halls out to the street level, but that’s not really the point of what we’re doing and it never was.”

The focus of the work — with design by Moody Nolan —  is quality, not quantity, she said.

“It’s going to greatly improve the space, the functionality, the flexibility of the building,” Calvert said. “You’re going to have a brand new junior ballroom that’s going to have special event space, rooftop space, just outside of the door for breakfasts and cocktail receptions. The way that events will flow through the building will be much easier and convenient because the concourses will be wider and because of the other structures, escalators.”

Located in the heart of the Midwest, the center will eventually have an 800-room hotel connected to it.

“We really have the opportunity to bring business here to Cincinnati that has bypassed us for years because we didn’t have the quality convention product that we needed to have in order to be competitive with our with our comp cities,” Calvert said. “We didn’t have the quality we needed to meet the needs of customers that require  better amenities, higher amenities.

Among those is a new outdoor pavilion across the street from the convention center. Elm Street in front of the Duke Energy Convention Center will be closed permanently.

“It’s a big plaza where you can host parties, receptions,” Calvert said. “There’s a stage. You can do music or speeches.”

It will be in a park setting that has pop fountains and greenery right outside the convention center.

“The priority of that pavilion will be to serve conventions,” Calvert said. “An outdoor space, as we know from trends, is not a ‘nice to have’ anymore, it’s a ‘need to have.’ Planners want that, the expectation is there for that. We’re offering two of those in the new center, that and the rooftop space outside the junior ballroom.”