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An unconventional meeting place? Once home to a Bloomington auto dealership, it's taken on a new life as Indiana's newest convention center.

Looking for a new car in Bloomington? Well, 302 S. College Ave. is no longer the place to go. But if you're looking for the newest convention center in Indiana, you've found the right spot.

The 69-year-old building has maintained a steady history--until now, that is--in the automobile industry. Formerly the Graham Motor Sales Ford dealership and most recently the Tom O'Daniel Ford building, the facility has changed hands again. It recently was renovated into the Convention Center of Monroe County/Bloomington in a project having roots back in the early 1960s. In addition to creating new jobs, the facility expects the estimated 60,000 annual visitors to spend money downtown and boost area businesses.

Originally proposed by a Bloomington resident at the start of that decade, a downtown convention center has long been sought by community leaders to meet the needs of local organizations for a large gathering facility. But not until early 1980 did the proposal begin to solidify into tangible action.

In 1981, the firm of Economics Research Associates assessed existing facilities and determined a convention center would meet the future needs of the city. Four years later, Peckham Guyton Albers and Viets, a consulting firm, laid out a five-phase program for the economic revitalization of downtown Bloomington, and a convention center was on the agenda. By the end of 1988, the Commission for Bloomington Downtown had pledged full support and promised to take an active role in bringing such a facility to Bloomington.

The Indiana General Assembly passed legislation to increase the Innkeepers Tax from 3 percent to 5 percent in March 1990, and along with a commitment from the Elmore Group the following month to invest $4.5 million to $6.5 million in an adjacent hotel, the project neared its final paper stages. In February 1991, the Monroe County Convention Center Building Corp. agreed to sell $2.4 million in 10-year bonds to finance the renovation, and contractors finally were called in. The architectural firm of Odle, McGuire and Shook, Indianapolis and Bloomington, created the design. Gilliate General Contractors of Indianapolis carried out the actual renovation of the building.

Renovation began in March 1991 and was completed seven months later. Some 30 years and $2.5 million after a downtown convention center was initially proposed, the facility has become reality. Indiana's newest convention center officially opened its doors last Halloween, with county and city officials serving as tour guides.

The two-story facility covers 40,000-plus square feet and offers 17,000 square feet of meeting space ideal for business, trade shows and other large meetings. The 13 individual meeting rooms can hold groups ranging from 10 to 1,000 people. Danielle Riggins, the center's sales director, says "in all, the center can accommodate 2,200 people at a time" when all rooms are in use. Next to the center is a city-owned parking facility with space for 350 cars, providing convenient access to the building.

While the exterior of the new convention center is the shell of the original building built in 1923, the interior has been completely gutted and refurbished. Corporate sponsorship allowed for individualized decoration in each of the first-floor conference rooms. "Every room on the first floor has different wallpaper, different chandeliers, different themes. Each room has its own character," Riggins says.

A more constant decor prevails throughout the second floor, which can be opened into one large ballroom, covering more than 12,000 square feet and holding up to 1,000 guests. An access ramp and a reinforced floor also allow the upper level to be used for exhibiting big-ticket items such as automobiles and boats.

The Convention Center of Monroe County/Bloomington employs a full-time staff of 10 people, with part-time staffers numbering more than 50. The center also touts an on-site catering service, with more than 20 years experience serving food varying from simple hors d'oeuvres to full breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Coming soon is another on-site service: the Indianapolis-based Markey's Audio-Visuals Co. with 30 years of experience in providing professional consultation in audiovisual technology. Besides basic A/V equipment, Markey's presence will allow any conference room in the center the flexibility of having large-screen computer graphics, teleconferencing, audio duplication, multi-image processing, state-of-the-art sound and access for the center's clientele to copy and fax machines.

Designed to handle a wide variety of gatherings, the convention center is suited for meetings, luncheons, receptions, trade shows and many other types of groups, Riggins says. "The ultimate goal is to accommodate conventions held overnight, using the local hotels to house the people."

Having hosted more than 90 events since opening in late October, the Convention Center of Monroe County/Bloomington already has some 70 scheduled events planned for '92. Upcoming events include the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Business Expo, the Bloomington Builders Association conference, events associated with the Hilly Hundred bicycle event, an event called Hoosier Fest and a Civil War reenactment organization.

While the convention center is relatively new, Riggins says the facility is prepared to handle any event. "We welcome any business throughout the state," she says. "We definitely have the professional staff to service any group."
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Title Annotation:Meetings & Convention; Convention Center of Monroe County/Bloomington
Author:Marbaugh, David
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Real estate around the state.
Next Article:Indiana meeting place update.

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