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Leaders aim for America Center to transform into ‘beacon of tourism in Midwest’

Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:21 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS CITY, Mo. (KMOV) - St. Louis leaders convened in downtown St. Louis to commemorate the groundbreaking of America’s Center expansion project (AC Next Gen) Tuesday morning.

The groundbreaking is the start of the much-awaited expansion and facelift for the America’s Center Convention complex. The expansion project is expected to bring St. Louis up to speed with peer cities like Nashville and Indianapolis, both of which recently made major upgrades in the last decade.

The last time the center was updated was in 1995. Post expansion, the AC Next Gen Project will be funded by existing hotel tax payments to increase direct spending on meetings and events to $394 million annually. It will also support over 4,900 full-time jobs and generate over 491,000 in room-night demand for the hotel industry. The cost of the project is $210 million and will be paid without a tax on local residents. St. Louis City and St. Louis County have each approved $105 million in new bonds, backed by a regional hotel tax paid only by guests staying in area hotels.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included Tishaura O. Jones, Mayor of the City of St. Louis; Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County Executive; LaTaunia Kenner, Chairwoman, Coordination Team, Deputy Comptroller of the City of St. Louis on behalf of Darlene Green, Comptroller; Tony Thompson, Chairman/CEO, Kwame Building Group; and Kathleen Ratcliffe, President of Explore St. Louis.

“This expansion to America’s Center will help secure its place as a beacon for travel and tourism in the Midwest, creating good jobs for working families across our region,” said Jones. “Attracting more conventions and attractions will strengthen our city’s urban core and make Downtown an even better place to live, work, and play.”

The group also discussed the first phase of the multi-million dollar project which included:

  • A new 72,000 square-foot exhibit hall expanding the existing hall 4 westward onto the block between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Cole Street, 9th Street, and 10th Street. The new hall roof has a 210-foot clear span for ultimate exhibit flexibility and windows above that offer natural daylight.
  • The new hall will be set back from 10th street approximately 75 feet to provide for a food farm that will supply fresh produce for the center’s kitchen.
  • The new hall is accessed from the new 9th street concourse and a new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & 9th Streets entrance.
  • An expanded, enclosed loading dock directly serving the three north exhibit halls. Cole Street will be reduced to 3 lanes, more conducive to the residential neighborhood to the north, and is provided with a new sidewalk and landscaping where there was none on the south side of the street.

“The last few years have been very challenging for the industry, and that makes today even more important: we are back and building something new that will benefit St. Louis and event planners for many years to come,” said Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe, President of Explore St. Louis.

The design for the project was directed by the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board (NCAB), a select group of meeting and event professionals. The board was significant in providing feedback, which resulted in innovative enhancements to the project. Explore St. Louis is the main force behind St. Louis’ $5.9 billion convention and tourism industry.

News 4 caught up with Explore St. Louis who said this is a huge step in the right direction for the city.

“Our forecast is that by the time we complete this project, the industry is going to be fully recovered,” said Brian Hall with Explore St. Louis. “We’ll have a brand new facility to showcase to national and international event organizers and our forecast for the future is decidedly upbeat.”