Northern Kentucky Convention Center needs renovation, possible expansion, study says

Northern Kentucky Convention Center needs renovation, possible expansion, study says

While Cincinnati moves forward with a revamped convention center and a new hotel, communities across the river are mulling a similar undertaking that could incorporate acreage from Covington’s sprawling former IRS site.

“Our No. 1 challenge is that it’s an outdated facility in appearance and features,” Kirkpatrick said. “This is noted by meeting planners when they come to Northern Kentucky and look at this region, that this building needs money put into it.”

The Northern Kentucky Convention Center opened in 1999 as the second-largest facility in the region, though both it and the recently renovated 68,000-square-foot Sharonville Convention Center are dwarfed by the 750,000-square-foot Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati.

Kirkpatrick noted the Northern Kentucky Convention Center is self-sufficient and even profitable, owing in part to the quality of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the walkable surrounding community and the facility’s layout.

“It’s very well run,” she said, “but it hasn’t had one dollar put into it by the state in 25 years.”

Truly enhancing and expanding the building could bring annual hotel bookings up to 78,000, Kirkpatrick said. That could involve land in the former IRS site, now named the Covington Central Riverfront development.

Tony Lamb, founder and CEO of Kona Ice, described the Northern Kentucky Convention Center as “an oasis” in a sea of other, larger venues around the country that lack the community feel and attention to detail brought by Kirkpatrick and her staff. He praised it as clean and accommodating, though he acknowledged space is getting tight.

“Ideally, selfishly, we would like for it to grow, because we think we’ll outgrow it,” Lamb told the Courier. “We’ve still got two to three years left before we really need to start negotiating how to do it. If we outgrow it, we outgrow it.”

Kirkpatrick has now presented the study to each of the fiscal courts of Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties. Next, MeetNKY and the convention center’s board will have ideation sessions on what the trajectory of any potential investment would be.

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