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IRVING, Texas - Newly opened in January 2011, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas changes the way meeting planners look at convention center space.

"We're setting a new standard," said Maura Gast, executive director for the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas creates an environment made for business."

With an iconic design and high-end finishes, the $133 million, 275,000 square-foot Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas takes a bold new direction in a landscape of traditionally "institutional" facilities.

Designed as a multi-functional building, the center includes a 50,000 square-foot, column-free exhibit hall, a 20,000 square-foot ballroom and 20,000 square feet in breakout meeting space.

Irving tourism officials take a targeted, strategic approach in attracting new business. Rather than compete with the major convention facilities already available in North Texas, the center focuses strategically on small and mid-size groups, primarily targeting groups of 800-1,200 delegates. The center accommodates groups as large as 4,000.

The vertical "stacked" layout enables Irving to simultaneously host sporting events, corporate and trade meetings, galas and other civic events, while allowing each group to have its own distinct space and ambience. For larger groups, the vertical design means delegates enjoy the comfort to flow efficiently between events.

The center creates new opportunities for Irving to attract weekend business, and gives the community a venue to host civic events previously held outside the city.

"Weekend business is a huge opportunity for us because our mid-week business is already so strong," Gast said.

Pennsylvania-based SMG, a leader in facility management and development, serves as the center's operator under the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau's direction, and shares sales and marketing responsibilities for the facility.

Bob McClintock, senior vice president-convention centers for SMG, said the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas offers a unique product in the marketplace.

Rather than offering users an exhibit hall-driven building that also includes meeting space, the Irving Convention Center provides a facility that focuses on meetings, while including the necessary exhibit space.

"The Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas has a character and a quality that is much more akin to a high-caliber conference facility than it is a convention center." McClintock said.  "This isn't the quintessential ‘box with docks'."

Thanks to its distinctive architectural design, "within its genre, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas is going to stand out."

McClintock said the Irving center's distinctive design and mission for top-quality customer service mirrors the sense of place and quality that already exists in the 12,000-acre Las Colinas master-planned development and the city's hotels.

By focusing on meeting space, and the ability to serve customers seamlessly for food and beverage services at a level comparable to a conference center or five-star hotel, Irving is able to take a surgical approach and focus on groups that add demand for the city's hotels and generate new revenues for local restaurants and retailers.

"This isn't meant to be a utilitarian building," McClintock said. "It's going to be functional and flexible, but its going to have that feel of an exceptional facility both in its architecture and its service. That's what customers expect and require."

Careful study and planning by Irving officials for the city's first convention center delivered a completed facility aiming for more than just functionality.

Situated on a 40-acre site visible from State Highway 114 and Northwest Highway, the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas uses a small footprint, allowing for future development that includes a performance venue, hotel and entertainment complex.

Together, the projects will provide an exciting environment for convention delegates, visitors to Irving and the corporations that call Irving home.

The Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas fits into a carefully defined niche that reflects the sophisticated and professional environment of Las Colinas, rather than trying to compete for the same kind of convention business nearby facilities serve.

"Irving has a true understanding of who it is and what it wants to be," McClintock said. "The city is building something that matches what the market needs."

Irving's strong fundamentals -- a high-quality, existing supply of hotels, easy access from both Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field, and a robust built-in corporate market -- make it an ideal place for a convention center, McClintock said.

With its intimate size, small and mid-size groups enjoy the high customer service levels of being the proverbial "big fish" in a small building.

"Irving has a first-tier market feel with its amenities and access to air service, but is able to offer smaller groups that customer focus they'd find in smaller markets," McClintock said.

On weekends, the building's users tend to shift from corporate to consumer, with amateur and youth-sporting events, events by social, military, educational, religious and fraternal (SMERF) organizations and events that tap the local community.

"Our goal isn't to fill the building with general interest consumer shows," Gast said. "We aim to find premium shows in that market by looking for specialized niche groups."