Georgia World Congress Center is about to get even bigger

The sprawling Georgia World Congress Center is about to get a lot bigger.

The downtown Atlanta convention complex broke ground on Tuesday on its first major expansion since 2002, a $55 million project that features a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall joining the center’s B and C buildings.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the investment “reaffirms our commitment to creating a world-class experience” for visitors and conventioneers. He was echoed by William Pate, who said the construction will make the center one of five in the nation that offer one million square feet of contiguous exhibit space.

State lawmakers approved bond funding for the project, along with a vote last year to double the overall bonding capacity of the center's authority from $200 million to $400 million. A portion of those funds will finance a luxury high-rise hotel on part of the site of the recently-demolished Georgia Dome.

GWCC officials have long said that the new gateway will help it compete with larger complexes in Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando that can offer more contiguous space. For clients seeking that kind of space in Georgia, staffers have had to set up makeshift walkways between the two buildings.

The center estimates the gateway will have a $632 million economic impact.

At almost 3.9 million square feet, the GWCC is one of the nation’s largest convention centers. It has 1.4 million square of meeting space broken up over three buildings. Building C, its last addition, added 420,000 square feet in 2003.

State officials say the update will also fit in with long-term plans to overhaul the complex that also include the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the 13-acre Home Depot Backyard greenspace and a possible entertainment area.