The Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville will close for two years for a $180 million bond-financed internal expansion project.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Kentucky International Convention Center will close for two years to complete a $180 million bond-financed expansion within the facility's existing footprint.

The project in downtown Louisville will increase contiguous exhibit space to 230,000 square feet from 146,000 square feet, and add a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, without expanding the outer walls.

State officials said the disruption from construction activities, the need to maintain safety of conventioneers, and the need to stay within budget led them to conclude that the convention center should close.

"It is quite difficult, if not impossible, to provide a quality experience when you're meeting in a construction zone," Clifford "Rip" Rippetoe, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky State Fair Board, said in a recent column. The Fair Board operates the convention center.

The Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Kentucky State Fair Board made the decision to close the building to expedite the project.

Officials have already met with 17 convention clients that had events scheduled during the construction period. Ten clients elected to relocate to other venues in downtown Louisville, five groups are reviewing future meeting dates in the city, and the plans of two clients have not been established.

"Our top priority is to keep this project within budget and on time to better serve the city and region as an economic driver for decades to come," Rippetoe said.

Work is expected to start in August 2016 and be completed in 2018.

The project is being designed by Chicago-based HOK Architects and Lexington, Ky.-based EOP Architects.

Last year, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill into law to help finance the $180 million in improvements with an existing transient room tax. It is projected to provide $2 million annually or $41 million over the life of the bonds.

The rest of the funding will come from bonds secured by a 1% increase in the hotel bed tax.

The renovation and expansion is expected to help the convention center retain events that are outgrowing the current building and attract new events that need more space than the facility can currently offer, officials said.

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