Fox Cities Exhibition Center preparing for next week’s grand opening

APPLETON (WLUK) — Tucked behind and attached to the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, the long-anticipated Fox Cities Exhibition Center is almost ready for business.

“This is something that we did look all over the Fox Cities, looked at the best site, what made the most sense, how can we maximize this kind of facility,” said Tim Hanna, Appleton’s mayor.

The site was maximized through construction crews relocating 11 Goodyear blimps worth of dirt. That allowed the building to be configured so convention goers can walk outside, into what will eventually be a revamped Jones Park.

“A lot of engineering societies and groups have already contacted us and want to come in,” said Dean Gazza, Appleton Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Management. “They are really intrigued by the structure and the eight foot beams, how it was created.”

The $31 million project features massive walls of windows on the street-level floor. An escalator ride downstairs will put you in a sprawling prefunction area that attaches to a flexible 30,350 square foot exhibition space.

“In the exhibition space, if you’ve got 3,200 people in there and another 800 in the prefunction and operations staff in here, that could get quite congested, so making sure you have the escalators to move people in a fast and efficient manner,” said Gazza.

There are already 20 events booked for this year, bringing in 4,000 hotel room nights this area wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Appleton city leaders believe those numbers will grow as more people get the opportunity to get here and check this space out.

“And then knowing you’re in the middle of a downtown area, I think that is going to be very attractive to people,” said Hanna.

The exhibition center is projected to have an annual economic impact of $6.5 million.

Before it was built, ten area municipalities agreed to use hotel room tax revenue to pay for the project. The final financial agreement still needs signatures from 7 of the 10 municipalities.

Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert says he fully supports the exhibition center, but his staff and others want a fixed interest rate to pay off the project’s loans.

“I don’t think it’s prudent to jeopardize and play roulette with the interest rate in the future,” said Kaufert.

Kaufert says Neenah might withhold its room tax if the interest rate isn’t fixed.

Appleton’s finance committee is expected to discuss options at its meeting on Monday.

“I have all the confidence in the world that once we can put the numbers to the paper and see the different scenarios that we will pick the best one,” said Hanna.

Appleton has been paying construction costs until the financing is settled.