Jan 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - After more than a decade of planning, several failed bids for state money and 18 months of actual construction, it was time Thursday for St. Cloud to celebrate the completion of the St. Cloud River's Edge Convention Center expansion project.
Several hundred residents turned out to see the end result of the $22 million project, adding an additional 32,000 square-feet of exhibit and trade show space as well as improved facilities at what the city hopes will remain a regional hub for large scale meetings and conventions in central Minnesota.
"We've been working on this for 12 years and now to finally see it come to this culmination, see people's reaction to the building, it's just a great feeling," convention center manager Bill Dunsmoor said.
Addressing the crowd before the official ribbon-cutting, St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis said the project represented a long-overdue addition that will benefit the city and state for years to come.
"It certainly has created not only economic development downtown, but in this region. It's a momentous day," Kleis said.
Only $2 million of the project was funded by the state, with the remainder coming directly out of city funds. In 2010, after relocating business H&M Appliance as well as tearing down the original St. Cloud Public Library next to the center, state money to move the expansion forward was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. However, the decision was made to make sure the project did not remain in limbo.
"We decided to do it on our own. We were not going to have an empty parking lot. We did not just move a business and we did not just tear down a library to not go forward," Kleis said.
While the new glass-encased lobby-entryway area and feature wall garnered much of the attention Thursday night, Dunsmoor said it was many of the center's new less visible elements that help it stand out as a world-class facility.
"The catering kitchen, some of the nooks and crannies, some of the little things, even the raised seating is spectacular. The subtleties, the fixtures, the finishes, even the carpet squares come out and we can replace them quickly," Dunsmoor said.
AUDIO: St. Cloud River's Edge Convention Center manager Bill Dunsmoor talks about the expansion's grand opening; 1/5/12
But one of the highlights of the expansion, particularly among the younger visitors to Thursday's grand opening, is one of its largest -- the giant new "Natural Life on the Mississippi" feature wall. The 40 feet wide by 25 feet high mural depicts 118 different species of plant, animal, fish and wildlife
that call the river just outside the convention center doors home.
"(It's) fantastic -- the longer you look at it, the more you find something on there," Dunsmoor said.
However, the true test of the facility's success will be the bookings. Dunsmoor said with three events already scheduled for Saturday and a rapidly-filling roster for the coming weeks, River's Edge was well on its way toward achieving the financial goals set for the project.
"We're doing ulitmate fighting in the new space, we've got a ribbon-cutting with the Army National Guard, and we're also doing a corporate show, so the entire building is busy this weekend from one end to the other. We're excited about that," Dunsmoor said.