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The Louisville skyline was projected on the walls of the convention center ballroom while a video showing iconic local places and activities played. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

With the aid of CirqueLouis performers, the a cappella group Linkin Bridge, the band Bourbon Straights and enough bourbon and food samples for everyone to get their fill, state and local officials celebrated the reopening of the Kentucky International Convention Center after two years and $207 million in renovations.

Food and drink vendors served up tastes to those in attendance, and people were allowed to walk through the new convention center for the first time. While many of the mobile food stations were run by Levy Restaurants employees, local restaurant owners Anne Shadle and Bruce Ucán of Mayan Cafe represented the convention center’s local offerings.

For an added cost, planners can add the Mayan Cafe as a food option at their events to give people a taste of what Louisville’s culinary scene has to offer. Shadle told Insider Louisville that the restaurant will serve a small menu of pork and chicken sandwiches, tacos and chips with guacamole.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to get this kind of exposure,” Shadle said, noting that they hope it will drive visitors to their restaurant at 813 E. Market St. and provide steadier catering work for their employees.

The Mayan Cafe had taken part in another company’s bid to manage food and beverage operations at KICC, she said, but when Levy Restaurants got the contract, Matthew Moss, vice president of hospitality strategy for Levy in Louisville, reached out about a partnership.

The Mayan Cafe isn’t the only local flair. KICC also is serving Red Hot Roasters coffee and Gravely Brewing Co. beer at its Oak and Brew concept, a coffee shop/bar, and Levy Restaurants is using some Kentucky Proud ingredients in its food.

In a series of speeches that kicked off the grand reopening event, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called it a “red-letter day” for the city.

“This is what winning looks like,” Fischer said, noting billions in investment that has taken place in the last few years or is ongoing in the city. “In my view, we are just getting started.”

Following the convention center renovation, the venue has 200,125 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 40,000-square-foot open ballroom with LED-colored walls, 52 meeting rooms, a 175-seat tiered theater and a kitchen with the capacity to serve 15,000 meals a day.

KICC, which will seek LEED Silver certification, also added high-capacity Wi-Fi, digital signage, a high-definition audiovisual system, and high-efficiency LED lighting and HVAC systems as part of the upgrades.

“We have tech, we have lighting, we have open spaces that most places don’t have,” said Don Parkinson, secretary of the state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “As taxpayers and citizens, you are going to be very proud of what you see today.”

Sixty contractors and subcontractors were used to complete the work, and at any one time, 400-plus workers were on-site, William M. Landrum III, secretary of the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, told the crowd.

The convention center opened on time and on budget, which Landrum attributed to a good team and hard work.

“There was no magic button to success,” he said.

Kentucky Venues President and CEO David Beck | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

KICC is owned by the state and overseen by Kentucky Venues and its board of directors. Kentucky Venues president and CEO, David Beck, who just started in that role in July, said the group wants facilities that “everyone can be proud of” and that contribute to Louisville.

“We want to help be part of the economic engine in this community to generate jobs and enhance our community,” Beck said, adding that everyone benefits when people spend the night in a hotel room or buy a meal at a restaurant.

The tourism business is estimated to grow by 25 percent to 30 percent, he added.

Stacey Church, general manager of KICC, oversees the day-to-day operations of the convention center, including its team of roughly 50 employees.

“I’m just excited to be part of this transformation,” she said.

Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]


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