Two years and $207 million later, the Kentucky International Convention Center is again open for business. City officials celebrated the convention center’s expansion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning. Local businesses are also welcoming the return of convention-goers.
Officials say the revamped Kentucky International Convention Center will attract more and larger meetings. And they say this will be great for the surrounding economy. But Louisville Downtown Partnership Executive Director Rebecca Matheny in a recent WFPL interview acknowledged that the past two years while the center has been under construction have been tough for downtown businesses.
“Downtown businesses have really been just amazing, I really want to give credit to the scrappy, wonderful, entrepreneurial nature of our retailers and our restaurants,” she said.
Convention organizers and attendees are valuable customers for companies of all types in the blocks surrounding the 300,000 square foot facility.
MPI Printing has been on the corner of Jefferson St. and Second St. since the late 1970s. Owner Todd Warren said the company promotes itself to convention organizers, pointing out its proximity to the center and ability to print products such as programs and maps.
Warren said he looks forward to that business coming back after nearly two years without it.
“Their first convention is this week, so I would think it’s going to be pretty immediate,” he said. “In the next few weeks, I’m sure we’ll see an impact.”
Companies with less obvious ties to convention center clients are also hopeful. Across the street, an employee at the adults-only “Love Boutique” said the shop is hoping business will pick up. She wasn’t allowed to speak on the record.
For some vendors, the promise of more convention-goers means boundless optimism about the future.
Joe Storzum sells four kinds of sausages from the Fireman Frank’s food cart at Fourth Street and Market Street. He moved down from Fourth and Main just a week ago due to road construction near his previous spot, and expects convention-goers to grow his business exponentially.
“I’m excited. I mean, there’s no other word about it, I’m totally excited,” Storzum said. “This is what I’ve always looked for, a great corner. They’re hard to find, they’re rare, and you get a little niche market going on. You make friends, that’s the main thing.”
But for some other restaurants, the convention center’s reopening means another chance. Meselech Tsegaye manages Addis Grill, her family’s Ethiopian restaurant on South Fourth Street. She said the convention center’s closing nearly shut down the business, and that she watched neighboring restaurants shutter as lunch and dinner visitors slowed.
“If it was not to open, I don’t know how long we would have lasted, for real,” Tsegaye said.
She said that now she’s hoping the restaurant will get back to the level it operated at before the convention center closed. Addis Grill’s survival depends on it.