CHAMPAIGN — After the conference center at the I Hotel expands next year, it will be able to hold more than 600 attendees.
Visit Champaign County President Jayne DeLuce hopes that means bigger conferences come to town.
“What this allows us the opportunity for that we haven’t had to this point is to go after larger conferences and events that we’ve had to turn away or we haven’t even sought out to begin with,” she said.
The conference center loses out on 15 to 20 events a year that would draw more than 600 people, according to Fox Development Corp.
Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the expansion of what is being called the Illinois Conference Center.
The 32,500-square-feet expansion is scheduled to open in September 2020.
The $13 million project will feature a 12,500-square-foot exhibit hall and will be connected to the southeast corner of the existing 38,000-square-foot conference center.
The I Hotel and Conference Center opened in 2008 just south of the State Farm Center.
While the 125-room hotel is owned and operated privately, the conference center is owned by the University of Illinois.
It is managed by Fox/Atkins Development, which has returned an operating profit to the UI of about $3 million, developer Peter Fox said last year.
The conference center cost the UI $11.6 million to build, according to News-Gazette archives.
The UI is paying for the expansion as well.
“Just as the original building, the expansion will generate revenue which will be used to pay expenses associated with the building,” Director of UI Auxiliary Services Lowa Mwilambwe said in August, when the UI Research Park board moved forward with the project.