Conway Expo Center’s event area to be finished

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Members of the Senior Olympics participate in the event at the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds. The city plans to finish the north end of the building, the event center, which will cost up to $1.4 million. It will be paid for with Advertising and Promotion funds, Mayor Tab Townsell said. The $6.6 million facility opened in 2010, and the expo center has been rented on almost a weekly basis, Townsell said.
Members of the Senior Olympics participate in the event at the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds. The city plans to finish the north end of the building, the event center, which will cost up to $1.4 million. It will be paid for with Advertising and Promotion funds, Mayor Tab Townsell said. The $6.6 million facility opened in 2010, and the expo center has been rented on almost a weekly basis, Townsell said.

CONWAY — The city is moving forward with plans to finish the north section of the Conway Expo Center, which could cost up to $1.4 million, Mayor Tab Townsell said.

When the $6.6 million Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds opened at 2505 E. Oak St. in 2010, the city “didn’t have the money at the time” to complete the 14,000-square-foot event-center part of the building, he said. The project was paid for with Advertising and Promotion funds, which come from a 2 percent tax on prepared foods.

Steve Ibbotson, director of the Conway Parks and Recreation Department, said bids will be taken on the construction project, but he doesn’t have a timeline for the project. He said $900,000 of the estimated $1.4 million will come from the city’s portion of Advertising and Promotion funds, and $500,000 will be awarded directly from the Advertising and Promotion Commission.

“Everything’s plumbed, and there are studs — metal studs and stuff like that — but there’s no Sheetrock, nothing finished,” he said. “It’ll have the ability to have two large rooms, or six smaller rooms, along with a catering kitchen and some restroom facilities.”

The floor plan is done, Ibbotson said. “The original design did not have the ability to break up those larger spaces into smaller spaces,” he said.

A couple of roll-up doors on the west side of the building may be closed, Ibbotson said.

“We’re going to need to add some storage, so what we’re proposing is, we’ve got so many roll-up doors, we’ll take a couple of spaces, and we’ll enclose the area outside of the building and create storage there.” Roll-up doors will be available on the west side, as well on other sides of the building, for expo vendors to utilize, he said.

Townsell said one feature added to the expo center will be a covered drop-off area, “like you’d see in front of a hotel.”

The mayor said the city has retained architect Rik Sowell, who designed the original building, and designer Georg Andersen, both of Conway, for the project. Andersen picked out colors and finishes for the new Conway airport terminal and is being asked for his input on the event center. Ibbotson said the final decisions on interior finishes will be made by him, the mayor, Chief of Staff Jack Bell and the City Council; then the project will be ready to bid.

The 45,000-square-foot Conway Expo Center has been leased “almost on a weekly basis” for shows since it opened, Townsell said. Dazzle Daze, a three-day shopping event to benefit the Conway Regional Health System, was held there last week.

“If we could build and outfit the event center, it’s going to become a daily rental center,” Townsell said. He said he envisions civic clubs using the facility for lunch meetings. “We would probably extend a relationship to Aramark,” Townsell said.

Aramark is a catering company and has a contract to provide dining services at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. The event center could also have a list of preferred caterers and multiple contracts, Ibbotson said.

Ibbotson agreed with Townsell that the event center will be attractive for civic clubs to use during the day.

“I can also see some of the local businesses using it for training space,” he said. “I can see conferences coming, where they would have vendors who would obviously use the expo center to display their merchandise or equipment, and then have continuing education in the event center.”

One use that the unfinished center has had, to date, is storing Conway’s 54-foot, artificial Christmas tree in the offseason.

“We’ll just have to find another location for that, another facility,” Townsell said.

Ibbotson said he is searching for another place to store the tree, which he said will likely be taken down in mid-January. Because the expo center has open space, “we could spread [the tree] out, but we can get it in a smaller area, obviously, if we need to,” he said. “We’re going to have to find another place to put it, for sure.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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