Until recently, the Boise Centre was just one squat building on the southwest side of Grove Plaza.
By St. Patrick’s Day, the city’s convention center will be incorporated into four buildings on three sides of the plaza, linked together by an elevated concourse now in early phases of construction. Boise Centre now stretches from Front and Ninth streets to Main and Eighth streets.
As part of the City Center Plaza office complex, the newly opened Boise Centre East expansion has some unorthodox configurations. The only dedicated meeting space in the Boise Centre East building is the 14,000-square-foot ballroom on the fourth floor. The lobby is on the third floor.
Convention space seamlessly transitions into the fourth floor of the adjoining Clearwater Building, where 12,500 square feet are distributed among four bigger rooms that can be partitioned into as many as 12 smaller rooms.
For all the meandering the Boise Centre does from building to building, its footprint drawn on paper is downright elegant.
Two perpendicular buildings (the Boise Centre and Clearwater Building) are joined around the curvature of Grove Plaza.
Boise Centre East could be integrated into three different building because it, the Clearwater Building and the concourse wrapping around CenturyLink Arena were all designed by Babcock Design Group and ESI Construction was the general contractor.
Once the concourse opens on or around March 17, people can wander from old to new convention space without going outdoors, and the sensation will be like going across one 86,000-square-foot building with the same brown, gold, green and red colors throughout, though the colors are assembled differently in Boise Centre East.
This change in color pattern illustrates how Boise Centre Executive Director Pat Rice likes to describe the two different Boise Centres within the same, continuous indoor air space.
“If you look at twins, they look alike but they have different personalities, but they are related,” Rice said. “The Boise Centre personality is probably a little more pragmatic, maybe a little more formal. (Boise Centre East) is a little more adventuresome. This space has a little more a sense of a wild side.”
The 1990 Boise Centre has little access to daylight beyond the lobby, as windows typically were not a part of the old school convention center world. At Boise Centre East, daylight finds entry into most of the rooms.
The curved front wall of Boise Centre East is a giant 45-by-40-foot window made with View Dynamic Glass supplied by View, Inc. of Milpitas, Calif. The glass tinting changes automatically to correspond with outdoor conditions to eliminate the need for shades or blinds.
Right by the glass wall, in the lobby outside the ballroom, attendees find eight Jehs+Laub lounge chairs from Knoll Studio that have a “small rocking action,” Rice noted. These chairs are paired with small Carrara marble tables from Knoll’s Eero Saarinen Collection.
The Knoll chairs and tables overlook Grove Plaza.
“Alive After Five in the evening, from up here, you’ll have the best seat in the house,” said Rice, acknowledging that the music won’t be audible.
Boise Centre East is entirely on the fourth floor, except for the third-floor lobby. The fourth floor is its assigned place in the Clearwater Building, where Clearwater Analytics fills floors five to nine and the Boise State University computer science department is on floors two and three.
Convention centers don’t typically share space in office buildings, especially sandwiched between two other tenants in the middle of a tower, Rice said.
“We’re not used to neighbors,” Rice said. “When they vacuum on the fifth floor, you can hear it here (in the fourth floor meeting rooms). We want to make sure we are not too noisy for our neighbors.”
Boise Centre East is an L-shaped facility wedged into 1.2 acres. The ballroom is the bottom of the L and the meeting rooms are in the upright segment of the L.
“Here’s the outside of the box. What do you want to see in the inside?” Rice described the challenge presented by designers. “It’s sheer constraints. Where do you put the elevators, the coat room, the kitchen?”
A bridge actually takes people from the Boise Centre East ballroom to the meeting rooms, though the bridge dynamic is not apparent inside. Three long escalators transport visitors to and from the lobby and concourse on the third level to the fourth level rooms.
The $26.3 million Boise Centre East expansion allows the convention center to host exhibit shows with up to 1,000 people with many more possible for banquet-only events. In the original Boise Centre, conferences with exhibits typically topped out at 500, Rice said.
The additional space doesn’t just double capacity.
“It helps us compete for up to 70 percent of the convention business in the U.S.,” Boise Centre communications manager Mary-Michael Rodgers said.
With Boise Centre East open only since mid-September, the convention center has already seen an uptick in event days. September saw groups book 47 event days, contrasting with 30 event days in September 2015. October 2015 had 42 event days and this October has 67 event days.
Rice said he’s talking with a large medical society convention looking to bring 1,400 people to Boise Centre in June and take rooms in 13 hotels.
Boise Centre East was the first of three phases to expand and update the convention center in a combined $45 million project.
Phase Two is the $7 million elevated concourse work under way now to link the Boise Centre and Boise Centre Ease with an elevated, enclosed concourse that will cross the south spoke of Grove Plaza and sit atop the entrance to the CenturyLink Arena.
The $12 million third phase will remove the little used 349-seat tiered Summit auditorium from the main convention center building. This will be replaced with a two-story structure, what Rice calls a 4,500-square-foot “junior ballroom” downstairs, and convention center offices and conference room upstairs – the first second story facilities for Boise Centre.
The auditorium work will start in December and finish by Aug. 1.