New fairgrounds expo center to open by Christmas

By Brian Brus

The Journal Record


OKLAHOMA CITY – Event promoters have been looking for new groups to make use of the city’s largest contiguous trade show event space, which is slated to open before Christmas, city officials confirmed Tuesday.


The expo building, recently renamed in honor of past State Fair chairman Clay Bennett, is a 279,000-square-foot building that features its own box office, kitchen and the latest electronic amenities expected by the convention industry, Vice President Scott Munz said.


The Bennett Event Center was built on the site of the former Travel & Transportation Building and Carriage Hall, which had less than a third of the total exhibition space. The new center will also provide parking for more than 2,000 automobiles.


The building was funded by the MAPS 3 initiative, a temporary, 1-cent sales tax to support $777 million in lifestyle projects such as a 77-acre park, river sports activities, and a convention center.


The MAPS 3 budget for Oklahoma State Fairgrounds improvements was set at $54 million, with 80 percent of that dedicated to the expo building handled by Atlas General Contractors.


Mike Carrier, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said the building was necessary to grow with some of the city’s regular events as well as to lure new business.


“The amenities in the new building are much different than anything we had available out there,” Carrier said. “We’ve had conversations, for example, with people such as Caterpillar or John Deere or other heavy equipment manufacturers who are interested in the building.”


Vehicle event organizers are attracted to the driving space in the fairgrounds to test new products, he said. Expos also tend to have short turnaround times on space reservations because of market release deadlines, so some of them have said 2017 could be a good year to come to Oklahoma City, but they haven’t pinned down times.


“I’m not worried about bookings for the expo building. It will attract events,” he said. “There have been discussions with potential clients, although none of them have announced a decision to come here yet.”