Gas South Convention Center in Gwinnett more than doubles in size

The facility celebrated a “grand reopening” this month after adding more than 100,000 square feet of space during the pandemic.
Aerial view of Gas South Convention Center, where renovation of the older existing convention center is nearly completed, on Gas South District Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Duluth. The 118-acre campus expansion and renovation also includes acres of green space, including a gorgeous new Gateway Park, located at the corner of Satellite and Sugarloaf Parkway. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Aerial view of Gas South Convention Center, where renovation of the older existing convention center is nearly completed, on Gas South District Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Duluth. The 118-acre campus expansion and renovation also includes acres of green space, including a gorgeous new Gateway Park, located at the corner of Satellite and Sugarloaf Parkway. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

In February 2020, the Gwinnett Convention & Visitors Bureau began construction on a $137 million project to renovate and expand what was then called the Infinite Energy Center, more than doubling the facility’s size.

Weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave crashed into the United States. Conventions shut down and the center went unused for months, except as an occasional mass testing site.

For Stan Hall, CEO of the convention and visitors bureau, it was a silver lining. With fewer events to work around, he said, they ramped up construction.

The facility, now named the Gas South Convention Center, celebrated a “grand reopening” this month after adding more than 100,000 square feet of space, about half in the exhibit hall. The larger facility is now booking events into 2025, with demand expected to increase still more next year when an adjoining Westin hotel opens.

The reopening comes as taxpayer-funded suburban convention centers bounce back from the pandemic. Leaders of the Gas South District near Duluth, which also includes an arena and theater, think they’re in a better position now to compete with the Cobb Galleria Centre, the Classic Center in Athens and the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

“There’s enough demand for every market,” said Lisa Anders, executive director of Explore Gwinnett Tourism & Film. “I don’t think we’re saturated at all because each and every one of them is turning a profit and making a pretty substantial positive impact on their respective areas.”

The Gas South District is best known for the arena adjacent to the convention center, which conventions sometimes use. The arena, home to the Atlanta Gladiators minor league hockey team, also hosts concerts and Gwinnett high school graduations.

The Gas South Convention Center reopened months after a consultants’ report resuscitated the idea of a center in DeKalb, the largest Georgia county without one. Officials there have discussed a convention center for decades, saying it could bring more visibility, not to mention money, to their county.

The Gas South Convention Center last year held 200 events and turned a profit of about $1.3 million, all of which is reinvested into the county-owned campus, Anders said. That’s not counting the economic benefits to business owners, and tax benefits to the county, when conference attendees stay at hotels and eat at restaurants in the area.

A study nearly a decade ago estimated the entire district, including the arena, had a $172 million economic impact on the county. However, some economists are skeptical of public investments in convention centers, finding that economic impact studies often overstate the benefits.

Construction crews work on the plaza as part of renovations of Gas South Convention Center Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Duluth. The older existing convention center space is now being renovated, a full-service hotel is being built on the Gas South district. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

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Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

The Cobb Galleria hosted 187 events from October 2021 to September 2022, according to the most recent annual report, for a profit of nearly $2 million.

“Operating revenues rebounded nicely in 2022,” the report said. “The first half of the prior year reflected the lingering impact of the pandemic.”

The Gas South Convention Center is right off of Interstate 85 and can be attractive to conference organizers who want to take ownership of an entire facility, which would be much more difficult at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta, the fourth-largest convention center in the country.

“Nobody competes with the World Congress Center and we’re not trying to do that,” Hall said. “It really gives them an opportunity to put their name on everything on our campus. They’re not competing with seven other conventions that are taking place.”

If rooms are set up to maximize space, the expanded Gas South Convention Center can accommodate about 12,500 people, an increase of about 5,500, said Marcia Powell, director of marketing and guest experience.

The renovations increased exhibit hall space from 50,000 to 90,000 square feet and added four new meeting rooms, a junior ballroom, a food hall, an outdoor plaza and green space. Most of the expansion work, north of the existing facility, was done first and opened in December 2021, at which point the older half closed for renovations. This month’s reopening connected the two halves, bringing the convention center to its new larger capacity.

The first phase cost $73 million, funded by the county’s special purpose local option sales tax. Pre-planning, engineering and the $61 million second phase were funded by county bonds. The county also issued $65 million in bonds for two new parking decks that serve the entire district.

The renovations included upgraded technology and updates to the convention center, which dates back to 1992, when it opened as the Gwinnett Civic and Cultural Center.

A car drop-off was transformed into furnished outdoor space. Inside, the furniture, wall decorations, paint, carpet floor finishes are all new.

The convention center’s catering vendor will use the food hall to expand its offerings, including wood-fired pizza, grill foods and salads, Powell said.

People tour vendors during North Atlanta Home Show at Gas South Convention Center, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Duluth. The older existing convention center space is now being renovated, a full-service hotel is being built on the Gas South district. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

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Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

At the North Atlanta Home Show, days before the reopening event, more than 7,000 area homeowners came and went from the exhibit hall and circulated among contractors, landscapers and interior designers.

The home show had taken place twice a year at the Galleria and once at Gas South, but the expansion prompted the addition of another fall show in Gwinnett, said Mark Levine, who manages the exhibition for Marketplace Events. This year’s January show had 50% more exhibitors than last year, he said.

The larger exhibit hall could host a tiny home village or larger landscaped areas like the home show sets up at the Galleria, said Levine.

“The facility is incredible and we love running a show here,” he said. “It gives us the ability to expand the features that we can bring into the show, to improve the visitor experience, and give them more things to do and look at.”


Gas South Convention Center facts

Cost of renovation from county SPLOST and bonds: $137 million

Exhibit hall space: 90,000 square feet

Main ballroom space: 21,600 square feet

Number of meeting rooms: 24

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