Just a year after unwrapping its $25 million expansion, the bookings are busy at the Sharonville Convention Center.

The expansion to 65,000 square feet, more than doubled the multi-level facility's capacity, increasing banquet capacity to 1,000, with 19 meeting rooms and a 20,000 square-foot exhibition hall.

That's not all that's new.

Northern Kentucky native Jim Downton has succeeded Will Greiner, the long-time executive director who retired last April, and in October, Ovations Food Services, a nationally known hospitality firm, was named the center's food and beverage provider.

Critical Acclaim
"There's been a huge reception for the facility from all our clients and new clients as well," says Downton, who started his career in the hospitality industry working at the Drawbridge Inn for Jerry Deters.

Among more than a dozen new events: The Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of the Noble Shrine, the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, the Ohio Stormwater Association,and HorrorHound Weekend, for fans of scary movies.

The convention center is typically booked about 300 days a year. This year, Downton says, it has added 32 events representing about a quarter million dollars in additional revenue.

In January, for example, its revenue rose 31 percent to $126,327, from $96,780 a year earlier, according to a report to Sharonville City Council.

While its bread and butter are conventions and trade shows, the center also wants to attract consumer events, such as the Home Remodeling Show, and large banquets, such as the Catholic Health Partners and Mercy Health's Black History Month gathering, as well as corporate meetings.

In the past, conventions and trade shows represented about 25 percent of the center's business. "If we could get that closer to 35 to 40 percent that would be a huge win," Downton says. "Our goal isn't the number of events as much as the economic impact to the city and generating room nights (for area hotels)."

There are about 3,000 hotel rooms in the Sharonville area, but city officials are looking at ways of attracting another hotel to city-owned land on Chester Road.

The expanded convention center is one of the anchors to the Northern Lights redevelopment along Chester Road that includes burying utilities and a new streetscape, and the $120 million construction of a new Princeton High School and Middle School.

The new school complex, to be completed by 2015, will have an arena-style gym, indoor track, natatorium and performance theater that will enhance the city's ability to draw athletic and academic events.

"We're partnering with Princeton Schools in finding ways we can work together to attract new business," says Downton.

Besides its additional space, the Sharonville Convention Center has a number of amenities that make it attractive for events such as building-wide wireless Internet, contemporary design with lots of natural light and environmentally friendly features, quick access to Interstate 75 with an electronic billboard on the highway and free on-site parking.

"We have a unique facility, unlike anything else in area," says Downton, "When we bring people here, that wins them over. But they'll only book one time on the facility.

"If the food and beverage service isn't there, they won't return."

That's why Ovations was brought in for food and beverage service.

"We wanted a partner who could deliver a wide variety with expert culinary credentials," said Downton, who has worked in sales at the downtown Hilton Netherland hotel and Kings Island.