Irving Convention Center Walkthrough

IRVING, TX-After a 10-year birthing process, city officials will break ground in October on a $137-million convention center. The 275,000-sf, innovative stacked design will go vertical in second quarter 2009 and deliver no later than Nov. 1, 2010.

The four-story structure will be built with 3,600 tons of recycled steel and skinned with 150 tons of perforated copper cladding, selected for its low maintenance and ability to endure drastic climate changes. The irregularly shaped floor plates will have 50,000 sf of column-free exhibit space, a 20,000-sf ballroom on the top floor, 20 break-out rooms, each about 1,000 sf, and an 800-space parking garage wrapping two sides of the building. The convention center and garage will take up 12 acres on the northern end of the city’s 40-acre mixed-use tract, which is bounded by Texas 114, Northwest Highway, Las Colinas Boulevard and Fuller Drive.

“It is modern, sculptural and a very recognizable silhouette that will be visible from the tarmac of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport,” says Barbara Hillier, principal of Princeton, NJ-based RMJM Hillier, the North American division of UK-based RMJM Group. “It’s a new kind of convention center.” She and RMJM principal Eric Jaffe started working on the iconic design about six months ago.

“Our biggest challenge was to take the vertical concept and make it interesting,” Jaffe tells “I don’t think there is anything conventional about this convention center. It represents the next generation of quality of construction and development in the area.”

Hillier, the lead architect, says the goal was to create a keystone project for the city, making it pedestrian friendly and a destination driver. The firm also developed the master plan for the 40-acre tract, which one day will hold a 3,500-seat concert venue, 215,000 sf of restaurants and retail and a privately developed hotel, spa and condominiums. A DART light-rail station will be parked within 1,500 feet of the convention center’s backdoor. The station opens in 2011, first opening the door to Downtown Dallas and two years later making D/FW airport accessible from the transit stop.

City officials last week locked in the steel price, agreeing to a $22-million contract with North Texas Steel Co. Inc. of Fort Worth. The steel is recycled material from old vehicles, which is coming from Nucor-Yamato Steel Co. of Armorel, AR. The price had to be locked “because of the volatility of the marketplace,” says Robert Kuykendall, Dallas-based Beck Group’s project manager for the job. “It’s going up $35 per ton per month. For every month we wait, we’d lose about $100,000.”

Kuykendall says site work will begin in September, setting up an October groundbreaking. Austin Commercial’s Roger Files in Dallas is the project’s construction manager. Philadelphia-based SMG has a five-year contract to manage and operate the convention center, including kitchen and catering.

The Irving project was resurrected last May, going through several revisions before the plan was stamped as done. “As frustrating as it’s been over the last 10 years, it’s so much better and more dynamic. It’s a better project in the short and long term,” Maura Allen Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, tells “We are ready.”

Gast says she immediately sent an e-mail to her staff after last week’s meeting, telling them to start chasing bookings. With much of the groundwork already laid, she says the first booking could be in hand within 60 days. “We’ve been talking about it to clients for a very long time,” she says.

Gast’s staff is targeting groups from 800 to 1,200 although the center’s capacity is 4,000. The target markets are corporate meetings, trade shows, regional events and sporting events as the team looks to pick up bookings from functions that have outgrown their usual hotel spaces. The design’s flexibility allows two simultaneous large events, without bumping each other’s shoulders, Gast and the architects point out. The underlying strategy is to keep the center filled midweek and weekends.

“We have the best opportunity to influence the market citywide is weekends,” Gast says. “Over the course of time, it will influence occupancy and visitor revenues.”

The 26-member staff is still coming to terms that the project is going to happen this time. “It feels really good. We’re really going to get it,” Gast says, her voice reflecting birthing pride more so than relief.

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