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Beyond the Border: Convention Center News in Missouri and Wisconsin

St. Louis’ America’s Center and Milwaukee’s Baird Center undergo renovations and expansions

By Amanda Christensen

For planners in Illinois looking for an out-of-state destination for their event without needing to go very far, both Missouri and Wisconsin have a plethora of options for venues—with two specific convention centers having recently undergone transformations.

Rendering of renovated America's Center Convention Complex exterior. May 15, 2024
Rendering of renovated America’s Center Convention Complex exterior || Courtesy of Explore St. Louis

Down in St. Louis, Missouri, America’s Center Convention Complex first opened in 1977 and had its initial expansion project done in 1993. Most recently, the center had another series of renovations and expansions begin, with the first phase slated for completion this June and a second phase planned to wrap up next year. “Dubbed AC Next Gen, a $259 million expansion and facelift is underway at the America’s Center Convention Complex,” says Catherine Neville, vice president of communications at Explore St. Louis. “The plans for AC Next Gen include a new 72,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a new entrance on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and a significant enhancement of the Washington Avenue entrance. The update will offer more than twice the number of loading docks for access to the exhibit space,” Neville explains.

Rendering of new outdoor green space for events at America's Center Convention Complex. May 15, 2024
Rendering of new outdoor green space for events at America’s Center Convention Complex || Courtesy of Explore St. Louis

The plans also include a complete transformation of a current adjacent parking lot into a large green space for outdoor events and a food garden to supply the center’s on-site kitchens. The center plans to provide donations of unused produce portions from the garden to local food pantries. “By investing in the renovation and expansion of America’s Center, we are ensuring the future of meeting success in the St. Louis region, which benefits the organizations that choose to meet in St. Louis as well as the vast hospitality industry that supports those events. Fentress Architects is overseeing the design of the center’s expansion, Kwame Building Group was selected as program manager for the project, and Ben Hur Construction Co. is supervising the day-to-day construction efforts of the venture.

The Baird Sky View Terrace at Baird Center. May 15, 2024
The Baird Sky View Terrace at Baird Center || Courtesy of Baird Center

Up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city’s Baird Center wrapped up a major $456 million expansion project and had a grand reopening event on May 16. The project has doubled the center’s operational capacity, better enabling it to host multiple events at once and enhancing its functionality and appeal. “This expansion includes adding 52 state-of-the-art breakout rooms, 300,000 contiguous square feet of exhibition space, and the stunning rooftop Baird Ballroom with panoramic city views,” says Leslie Johnson, vice president of sales and event experience at Visit Milwaukee. “The expansion is extensive, designed to enable the venue to hold two conventions simultaneously, with the convention center’s new wing having its own separate entrance and a second ballroom.” She notes other additions the expansion will include are an outdoor rooftop terrace, access to outdoor terraces outside of the breakout rooms, new meeting rooms, an additional loading dock, and new indoor parking spots.

Interior of Baird Center's third-floor exhibit level. May 15, 2024
Interior of Baird Center’s third-floor exhibit level || Courtesy of Baird Center

Another focus of the Baird Center renovation project is an emphasis on sustainable and inclusive add-ons, including solar roof panels, a water retention system, bird-friendly fritted glass, all-gender restrooms, sensory rooms, and more. “This expansion is critical for stimulating economic growth in Milwaukee and is projected to support 2,300 jobs statewide and attract an additional 100,000 unique visitors annually,” adds Johnson. “It positions Baird Center as a key player in showcasing Milwaukee as a world-class destination with a world-class convention center, contributing significantly to the local economy.”