Convention Center plans $1.9 million party courtyard on Okeechobee

Palm Beach County officials plan to begin construction this year on a $1.9 million project that will transform the area in front of the convention center on Okeechobee Boulevard into a landscaped courtyard that can be used for outdoor events.

Convention center officials pointed to the outdoor patio space at the nearby Restoration Hardware building, saying they hope to create a similar area that is appealing to both convention-goers who use the building and pedestrians and motorists who pass it on Okeechobee Boulevard.

Dave Anderson, regional vice president-Spectra Venue Management, the company that runs the convention center, said an outdoor event space has long been needed at the building. The project will also create a tranquil area where convention-goers can relax between meeting and events, he added.

RELATED: Palm Beach County convention center turns profit thanks to hotel

“We wanted to design it in a way that creates seclusion from Okeechobee Boulevard and a sense of place,” Anderson said. “It is really the outdoor space that we have been looking for.”

The design plan includes new sculptural elements, lighting, and landscaping that will transform about 8,500 square feet near the convention center’s entrance off Okeechobee Boulevard into an “outdoor room,” said Elayna Toby Singer, the county’s Art in Public Places administrator.

“It is about creating an iconic presence for the convention center as a destination,” Singer said. “It is about having that landmark.”

Los Angeles-based artist and architect Susan Narduli was selected by the county’s Art in Public Places committee to lead the team that is designing the project. Narduli’s studio was one of 48 groups that competed for the chance to design the project, Singer said.

Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, an international firm that specializes in architectural lighting, is partnering with Narduli on the project, Singer added.

The team’s plan will use lighting and shadows to give the courtyard a different look every day of the year, Singer said.

Narduli “refers to the art work as part physical, part magic,” Singer said. “It changes. It reveals itself through the shifts of light and the time of day.”

The project comes at a key time for the once-fledgling convention center, which reported an annual profit last year — a first in the building’s 14-year history. Tourism officials attributed the financial shift to the West Palm Beach Hilton opening next door.

In the two years since the 400-room hotel opened, the convention center has seen a surge in the number of longer-term bookings, including trade associations, conventions and other meetings. Those events are booked years in advance and typically draw visitors from throughout the world to Palm Beach County for multiple-day trips.

With the increased traffic, Anderson said there is a need for outdoor space where meeting and convention planners can hold opening and closing events and open-air and evening receptions.

“It is really going to be a beautiful area,” Anderson said.

The courtyard project is being paid for with revenue from a bond sale that was also used to fund the construction of a 2,500-car parking garage at the convention center. Construction on the project is expected to begin in the coming months and be complete by the end of the year, Singer said.

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