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Colorado Convention Center: Clean and "green," with a big blue bear

In 1990, the Colorado Convention Center opened amid hoopla and high hopes of energizing tourism in downtown Denver. The gorgeous, sleek design was unanimously admired. But when out-of-state meeting planners visited, they voiced concern about more space and the lack of a nearby, convention-sized hotel…then took their business elsewhere. Denver listened. In 2004, a $310 million expansion doubled the venue—followed by a super-sized hotel across the street and more than 8,000 rooms just a walk away.

Today, the CCC is the eighth-largest meeting facility west of the Mississippi and a favorite of conventioneers and locals alike. The new design added the 5,000-seat Wells Fargo Theatre for speakers and nationally known music performers, as well as a 1,000-space parking garage onsite. A covered walkway connects the venue directly to the Performing Arts Complex just a block away. The adjacent light-rail station has been a godsend for downtown workers as well as suburbanites who enjoy the convenience when they attend a sporting event or city-wide festival.

Denver’s public art projects are notable, but none are as memorable as the "big blue bear," 40 feet tall, that peers into the front windows of the building. Officially titled “I See What You Mean,” artist Lawrence Argent originally planned that the bear sculpture would reflect earthy sandstone colors of Colorado. But when the design printout came out, it was blue. He liked it so much that plans were changed and a downtown icon was created.

The convention center is dedicated to “green” practices, from its numerous recycling bins for paper, glass and aluminum to the three spaces in the parking garage that are free of charge for hybrid and electric vehicles. Lights, heating and cooling systems, plus escalators are turned on only during event hours, toilets are equipped with low-flow systems, and transportation companies are asked to turn off idling vehicle engines. A 30,000-square-foot solar power system atop the venue offsets some of the building’s energy use. Staff members encourage convention planners to adopt digital info over paper communications, water stations instead of plastic bottles, and badge recycling. More conventions utilize decorative plants to jazz up interior spaces, replacing cut flowers.

HelloDenver tip: The “big blue bear” has been such a hit with tourists that the convention center’s gift shop sells miniature versions as take-home souvenirs.

Posted on May 16, 2010 by Lisa Perry
convention center auditorium Wells Fargo Theatre downtown
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