Convene On Site

Placing Bets on Kentucky International Convention Center

With the Kentucky International Convention Center reopening, Louisville is back in the race to win convention business.

KICC exterior

After being closed for two years, the Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) is no longer waiting at the starting gate. The renovated facility swung open its doors in early August to give the public a chance to admire its sleek, new look.

I was there, sponsored by Louisville Tourism, for the big unveiling. While the center occupies the same footprint as before, the building has been remade into a modern, airy, and light-filled venue that city officials say they anticipate will make Louisville more attractive to a bigger pool of event planners, especially those who organize medical meetings. In fact, the city is aiming for a 25- to 30-percent increase in convention and trade-show business as a result of the reopening.

With total space just shy of 1 million square feet, KICC now features 200,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit-hall space, a new 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 52 meeting rooms, a 175-seat tiered theater, and a kitchen that can serve up to 15,000 meals per day. The work was completed on time and on budget, at about $207 million.

‘A Ribbon of Glass’

Ribbon cutting ceremony at KICC

Peter Ruggiero, design principal with HOK’s Chicago office, one of the building’s design collaborators, told Louisville media that the building is wrapped “in a ribbon of glass to really be part of the city.” 

Glass is an apt metaphor for the interior design as well, as it reflects Louisville’s heritage. The natural wood palette, for example, aims to capture the look and feel of the casks that populate Bourbon Country.

To say the city was ecstatic that KICC is back in business would be an understatement. Hundreds of dignitaries, joined by the citizens of Louisville, were on hand for the KICC grand reopening celebration. There were Champagne toasts, a Call to Post, gymnasts who twirled on ribbons suspended from the ceiling, bourbon tastings, and, of course, a moving rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Not wasting any time, the first event in the new KICC — the 2018 International Summer Bible Conference — was held three days after the reopening. This month’s events at KICC range from the International Elastomer Conference and Expo to Equestricon, an international horse-racing convention, trade show, and fan festival. KICC has contracts signed for 112 events through 2024. 

‘This Is a Big Deal’

KICC concourse

The reopening glee wasn’t confined to the center. One merchant in the hip Louisville neighborhood of NuLu said it had been a hard two years for many merchants, who had missed the business that conferences bring in.

“We’ve been waiting,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at the reopening. “This is a big deal for our city and for our state.”

Fischer pointed to what he described as the city’s renaissance — Whiskey Row is in the midst of a comeback and new hotels, including the Omni Louisville, have opened. Some people, he said, may accuse him of boasting. But he reminded those who doubt him of the words of Louisville native son Muhammad Ali: “He said, ‘If it’s true, it ain’t bragging.’”

Cristi Kempf

Cristi Kempf is executive editor of Convene.