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Emerald Coast Convention Center expansion
An outdoor expansion at the Emerald Coast Convention Center is almost finished, and more changes could be coming.
Future plans include a walkover to help people cross a busy highway.
Laura Hussey "The Emerald Coast Convention Center sits on the north side of US 98. You come out of your meeting, you want to go to your hotel, to a restaurant or a shop, you're going to have to cross 98, because all of that is on the other side"
"To get there, you've got a couple of choices. You can walk all the way down to the end of the parking lot, there's a light by that Convention Center sign"
"Or, I'm not recommending this but I've seen it done, you can just come out to 98, cross your fingers and hope for the best"
A covered walkover could be possible as early as fiscal 2015, providing it's approved through county procedures.
It's part of a long term vision that includes new covered entrance ways and a multi-level parking area.
An outdoor expansion of 30,000 square feet should be finished by the end of the month.
Joe Guidry of the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort says it's similar to what's being done in major convention markets.
"Las Vegas, which has a million square feet covered, has gone to creating these special pads, where you can do tenting, you can do outdoor events"
With more and bigger events ahead, Guidry says the time has come for a walkover.
Joe "That's the thing that the hoteliers are most excited about. One of the real challenges in marketing the convention center has always been that there isn't a hotel attached to it"
Projects at the convention center are paid for by bed taxes on hotel and condo rentals.
That money can only be spent in ways that boost tourism.
The owner of the Magnolia Grill says lots of businesses feel the impact.
Tom Rice "All kinds of fun things happen at that conference center, because we do have a big space out there. And you know, if they're staying on the Island, they're coming here to dine, at least one time"