- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A renovated Charleston Civic Center could include new glassed-in corridors, an expanded convention center space and an outdoor plaza along the Elk River, according to concept renderings presented to city council’s Finance Committee.

Produced by consultants Odell Associates, the renderings are meant to give the public an idea of what the Civic Center could resemble, or what the consultants “want this building to aspire to,” said Odell architect Gaurav Gupte.

“This is a great concept,” he said.

A final design by a to-be-determined design-build firm is expected by spring.

Odell will assist the city with the selection of the design-build firm and will oversee the construction process.

Reaction was positive from the roughly 50 council members and members of the public who witnessed the Odell presentation Oct. 20.

Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis, an at-large Democrat who is also a Finance Committee member, had one of the biggest smiles of everyone gathered. She said she believes the renovations will help “make Charleston a destination.”

“You’re going to see a very attractive facility,” she said.

Davis said a recurring theme during the planning process was considering “what needed to happen and what has to happen” to keep the Civic Center viable.

“The thought was, can we do this?” she said. “We can. You can’t help but smile.”

Regardless of the final design, the consultants said they want to ensure several key upgrades are made, including addition of more convention space; a better separation of the convention space and Coliseum; and incorporation of the Elk River into the design of the facility.

“The city really does not need to turn its back to the river,” Gupte said.

Design would also allow the Civic Center to host two large events at once one in the convention space and one in the Coliseum. Currently, some of the larger events require the use of both spaces, eliminating the possibility of scheduling simultaneous events.

Under the current proposal, the convention center space the current Grand Hall would be expanded by about 20,000 square feet toward the river and the area would get a new kitchen and meeting rooms.

The Coliseum would see new concession areas and restrooms and would get a glassed-in hallway along its length, allowing pedestrians from the Charleston Town Center Mall to be out of the elements.

Much of the building’s infrastructure like its heating and cooling system will also be upgraded.

“We found so much of the building’s systems that were substandard and needed to be replaced,” Wooland said. “They can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced.”

Besides the artist renderings, Odell also briefed council on its research behind the design, including market assessments and comparison of convention centers in nearby cities. Odell also used internal Civic Center and Charleston Convention & Visitors’ Bureau data.

“Meeting planners look at the quality of space as much as the quantity of space to determine whether to book your building,” Odell architect Michael Wooland said.

Wooland said he believes the convention and visitors’ bureau should expand its target market to a four-hour radius from Charleston, instead of the current three-hour radius.

“We found that Charleston is well positioned to compete with these neighboring towns,” he said.

The renovations are being financed by revenue from a tax increment finance district downtown and a half-cent city sales tax.

Molgaard initially estimated the project would cost about $50 million, but offered a revised estimate of about $60 million.

“This is going to be a larger project and it will be dictated on many respects how much revenue we can bring in,” he said.

Now that Odell has presented its initial recommendations, the consultants and the city will begin the search for a design-build team. Three finalists are expected to be identified by Dec. 19, and the winning firm will be tentatively be selected by March 23.

The three finalists will each receive a budgeted $100,000 as an honorarium, City Manager David Molgaard said.

Construction could begin as early as the spring of 2015 and if on schedule, will wrap up in late 2017.

The Civic Center will not close during construction.

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Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.charlestondailymail.com

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