The possibilities were discussed by a panel hosted by theCentral Philadelphia Development Corp. The speakers included JackFerguson, EVP of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau;Thomas Muldoon, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau;Joseph Coradino, EVP of the Pennsylvania Real Estate InvestmentTrust; Edward Lewis, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Academyof the Fine Arts; and CPCD executive director Paul Levy.

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Once the expansion is complete, the convention center will boastthe largest contiguous exhibit space in the northeast, at 541,000sf as well as the largest convention center ballroom on the eastcoast, at 60,000 sf. Total exhibit hall space will be raised fromits current 440,000 sf to 700,000 sf. The $700 million project isscheduled for completion in 2010.

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With so many more people coming to the convention center, hotelgrowth in the area is set to boom. "This will stimulate hotelgrowth, because we have to have it," Ferguson tells GlobeSt.com."We see somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 to 2,500 new hotelrooms coming to Center City Philadelphia, particularly focused nearthe convention center." According to Ferguson, 533 rooms arecurrently being converted from former office space in the area andare expected to open in 2009, just ahead of the convention center'sreopening. In addition, a 55,000-sf site at the corner of Broad andRace Streets is being considered for an 800- to 900-room hotel.

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"The critical component of that particular site is that it islinked underground by an existing subway pedestrian walkway, whichisn't being used," reports Ferguson. "So, the hotel could be linkedunderground directly to the convention center."

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Extra visitors will want to eat, shop and see the sights, andthe area is gearing up to service them. According to Ferguson, thePennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which is housed right acrossthe street from the convention center, plans to spend $15 millionconverting part of Cherry St. into a pedestrian walkway. Thewalkway will extend from Broad St. to the PAFA buildings right atthe door of the convention center."What this does is, it links PAFAand the convention center with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, whichis where most of our major museums are. So, now you have thecultural aspect of the arts tied into PAFA and tied directly intothe Broad Street entrance of the convention center," saysFerguson.

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Nearby retail, particularly the Gallery at Market East, is dueto receive some renovations ahead of the convention center opening.The 30-year-old Gallery was built in the style of a suburban mall,with shops facing inward and a blank wall along Market Street. Theimprovements include adding glass facades to the outside of thebuilding and bringing in new anchor tenants that can servevisitors, area residents and commuters.

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"The improvements to the Gallery will induce other improvementson Market St. East," says Ferguson. "There's really nowhere elsefor upscale retail to go but over to Chestnut and Market streets,which link up to the historic districts of the city."

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Ferguson and the other panelists have high hopes for the cityafter the convention center expands. "The convention center isgoing to grow by about 62%," says Ferguson, "so you're going tohave something in the neighborhood of 1.6 million or 1.7 millionpeople going through that building a year. All of a sudden, you'regoing to have activity along North Broad Street that never existedbefore. Right now, there's not much activity on North Broad. Oncethe center opens, you're going to have happen on North Broad whathappened on South Broad, which is the Avenue of the Arts now, withall of the theaters.

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"Over the years, the convention center has been the economichospitality engine that drives all segments of the market becauseit exposes people to Philadelphia," he concludes. "They come in,they see it, they like it, they see there's activity. That alsocreates a lot of activity for the area residents and the region.It's stimulated all segments, not just convention centerbusiness."

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