Date: Sept. 29, 2004

Management of the new 142,500-square-foot, $37.4 million Columbia (S.C.) Metropolitan Convention Center feels that being one of the last capital cities in America to have a convention center will be a plus for the new building.

That means there is a huge untapped market, said Mack Stone, general manager for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism. “And why would people come to Columbia?” Stone said. “Probably because they have been waiting to come here. We aren't fooling ourselves. We don't think we will pick up the business that goes annually to Myrtle Beach, but for those associations that are on a rotation, I think they will come here.”

Stone said the new facility, which officially opened on Sept. 21 with a ribbon cutting, will have a primary target area of a 350-mile radius. The secondary target area will include businesses up to 500 miles away, including the D.C. area where hopes are to pick up regional business from some national associations headquartered in that area.

Stone said they also expect to pick up some business from the University of South Carolina.

The building, Stone said, has the largest ballroom space in the city. The ballroom, at 17,200 square feet, can seat 1,200 for a meal. The exhibit hall is 24,700 square feet. Total meeting space is 15,145 square feet. There are also ample public areas, including registration areas and pre-function space. The architect was Thompson, Ventulett, Stainbach & Associates of Atlanta, in conjunction with Stevens & Wilkinson of Columbia.

“Of course, as soon as you move into a place you start talking about expansion,” Stone said. “We have space adjacent to us to expand. We can build three more 25,000-square-foot halls. We are completely wireless inside the building, but we do have hardwire if our clients want it. We have all the bells and whistles.”

According to Sandi Owen of the marketing division, funding for the project was a joint effort between the City of Columbia, Richland County and Lexington County. The city retains ownership because it has to cover any operating deficit, said Stone.

“We broke ground on the building in August 2002, so it took us just a little over two years to build,” Owen said. “We have our own marketing plan in place. So far, we have about 170 event days on the books.”

The facility's opening gala was held on Sept. 23 with Centerplate, the facility's food service company, serving about 900 for the black tie event, said Gael Doar, director of communications, Centerplate. She said Donald Burchell is the general manager and chef for Centerplate at the new center.

“We have great food,” Stone said. “We hope to leverage that. As you know, people will forget who spoke at a session long before they will forget the food.”

Owen said the 20th annual Taste of Columbia Wine Classic event was held in the center's first weekend and the Medal of Honor Awards event was set for this weekend. She said although they have had some moving pains, everything is now up and running.

Steve Camp is CEO of the Midlands Authority.

Interviewed for this story: Mack Stone, (803) 545-0010; Sandi Owen, (803) 545-0001; Gael Doar, (203) 975-5941