The new Washington Convention Center opened yesterday to ribbons, champagne and cheers as city officials took a break from terrorist alerts and tight budgets to welcome what they hope is a new beginning.
During a gala ribbon-cutting ceremony last night, scores of city officials, members of Congress and future clients kicked off a weekend of festivities that included dinners and receptions celebrating the largest building ever built in the District.
"It's a great night for the city," said D.C. Council Member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat. "But more importantly it's a great night for the Shaw neighborhood. It's an opportunity to preserve the character of the neighborhood and create economic development."
The new convention center, with its 2.3 million square feet of space, is one of the 10 largest in the country, city and tourism officials say. It covers six square blocks and can hold two Washington Monuments.
It replaces the old convention center, which contains 880,000 square feet of space. Officials are determining what to do with the windowless old center and are studying proposals that include housing, stores, a library and concert halls.
"This is a real exciting time for the city," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said.
The new center stands across Mount Vernon Place from the old center, between Seventh and Ninth streets NW, in the renovated and expanded Mount Vernon Square Metro stop.
The new center splits into three sections, with L and M streets extending through it. It provides 150 parking spaces for employees, but officials say Metro and the 5,000 parking spots within a 10-minute walk of the building will accommodate visitors.
More than a decade in planning, the center cost $834 million and took about 4 years to build.
City officials expect it to generate about $1.4 billion for the local economy and attract about 3 million visitors a year.
Among the center's features:
A 300-foot curved-glass entry with 80-foot skylights
About 44,000 square feet of retail space
About 500,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space on one level and about 230,000 square feet on another
A 52,000-square-foot ballroom that can hold 3,000 guests for a sit-down dinner
70 meeting rooms totaling about 125,000 square feet
"In a city filled with monuments, this is a monument to the District of Columbia," said Louis H. Dawley III, general manager for the Washington Convention Center Authority. "The new center is a symbol for what our community can accomplish when we can work together."
The first official show in the new building will be FOSE, the largest government information-technology exhibition, scheduled for April 8-10, with 18,000 expected to attend.
The Washington Convention Center has been host to the show for 20 years.
At least 187 meetings have been booked through 2020, according to the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., the city's marketing arm.
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