The exhibit hall and other areas of the Tucson Convention Center in Arizona are getting an upgrade. (Courtesy Tucson Convention Center) 

Convention center, music hall among buildings being improved

The Tucson Convention Center in Arizona and the other venues on its campus are getting a $65 million upgrade.

Built in 1971, the complex includes the 90,000-square-foot convention center, the 8,962-seat Tucson Arena, the 2,294-seat Tucson Music Hall and the 511-seat Leo Rich Theater.

The convention center, which already features 205,000 square feet of meeting space, will get a $14.7 million renovation. New meeting rooms, IT enhancements and a new floor for the ballroom will make up most of the work.

New seating and upgraded sound will be part of the music hall remodel. New landscaping in front of the plaza and fountain is also being planned.

The complex has been overhauled before. In 2016, $3.7 million in enhancements were done to the arena in preparation for the first season of the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners. A few years earlier, repairs to the plumbing and air conditioning system and elevator and escalator improvements, were carried out.

“The new upgrades will really improve what we can do at the convention center,” said Glenn Grabski, general manager of the property for SMG. “It’s been underutilized, and we want to change that.”

The management company’s contract was signed in 2014 and runs through 2025. SMG’s Savor is the food and beverage provider at all the facilities.

Grabski expects a new Doubletree Hotel being built on the property, as well as another new hotel project in downtown Tucson, will play a key role in expanding the client base for the convention center.

“We’ve had a severe shortage of rooms, and booking bigger conventions has been a challenge,” he said. “The new hotel rooms will give us a big lift in how we can sell the space. We are inching toward having 1,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, which will definitely attract more business.”

Construction will begin before the end of the year. “We are hoping to get it all done within two to three years,” he said.

The center hosts about six large conventions a year, with upwards of 150,000 attendees, according to Grabski. Bigger shows have include the Gem and Mineral Show and the American Gem Trade Association.

Ultimately, Grabski thinks, the planned improvements could double convention revenue.

The project is funded by a portion of the state’s sales tax. Fletcher McCusker, an official for the board of directors of the Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment district, the body that allocated the funds for the renovation, said the board and SMG share a single vision: to make the complex Tucson’s own Lincoln Center.