Convention Wisdom

Memphis Cook Convention Center is about to receive a major facelift

Architecture East News
Memphis Cook Convention Center is about to receive a major facelift. Rendering of the Cook Convention Center's new exterior. (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)
Memphis Cook Convention Center is about to receive a major facelift. Rendering of the Cook Convention Center's new exterior. (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)

The city of Memphis, Tennessee, will be 200 years old in 2019. In anticipation of that milestone, the city is investing in improvements throughout the downtown and along the Mississippi. Along with redeveloping the Mississippi Riverfront, Mud Island, and the Pinch District, the Memphis Cook Convention Center renovation is part of the much larger citywide Bicentennial Gateway Project. Led by the Memphis office of Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) and Atlanta-based tvsdesign, the overhaul will affect the entire complex, including the neighboring Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

In the first week of the year, the City of Memphis filed for the project’s first construction permit, which lists the budget at $175 million. That money will be drawn from a 1.8 percent hotel tax and Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) funds gathered from the convention center’s surrounding neighborhood.

The most dramatic changes to the convention center will come in the form of an expanded footprint and outdoor terraces with views to the river and downtown skyline. New glazed concourses and meeting rooms will increase breakout space while providing more views of the city.

The renovations to the Memphis Cook Convention Center will include new outdoor balconies overlooking the Mississippi River and the city’s skyline. (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)

In the 125,000-square-foot main exhibition hall, new retractable ceiling lights and additional material upgrades will allow for a 40,000-square-foot secondary hall to be carved out from the west end. The number of breakout rooms will also be expanded from the current 30 to 52.

Access to the building will be updated with the addition of a new grand entrance and a new sky bridge. The new grand entrance will open to the Main Street Trolley station and neighboring Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel. The sky bridge will connect the convention center to the Sheraton. Back-ofhouse access will also be improved with a redesign of the loading docks.

The neighboring 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts will undergo a complete cosmetic update, as well as backstage improvements. Along with the performing arts, more public art will be brought to the complex through a partnership with ArtsMemphis and the Urban Art Commission, as well as private contributions.

Interior rendering of the main hall. (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)

In order to establish these goals, the Memphis Meeting Planners Advisory Board met with convention and event planners from around the country. Along with this research, feasibility studies conducted in 2010 and 2011 found that redeveloping rather than moving or rebuilding the convention center would be more cost effective while achieving the same goals. Another advantage of not moving the complex is that through careful phasing, both the Convention Center and the Cannon Center will be able to host events throughout construction.

Other portions of the city are set to be transformed through major infrastructural improvements in multiple neighborhoods, and TIF districts will be expanded to help pay for the improvements. With work beginning in earnest this year, Memphis will be a changed city by 2019.

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