Friday, October 29, 2010

Architect chosen for convention center

Virginia Beach Convention Center designed by Trahan Architects

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, October 29, 2010 12:12 AM CDT
The architectural firm that led the $200 million renovation of the Louisiana Superdome after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and also designed the $212 million Virginia Beach Convention Center was selected Thursday to design the downtown Owensboro convention and events center.

Trahan Architects of Baton Rogue, La., and Chicago was chosen from among 26 firms that sought to design the $27 million Owensboro facility that will sit near the Ohio River on the site of the former Executive Inn Rivermont.

Trahan's fee has not been determined. Negotiations to determine how much money Trahan will be paid to design the building, either on a percentage of construction cost or flat fee basis, will begin now and take up to six weeks to complete, Downtown Development Director Fred Reeves said.

But Trahan will actually begin working on the convention center design immediately, Reeves said.

At a meeting Thursday morning at City Hall, the Downtown Events Center Steering Committee voted unanimously to recommend Trahan to design the facility. Immediately following that meeting, the Owensboro-Daviess County Industrial Development Authority met and approved the steering committee's recommendation.

Trey Trahan, principal architect in charge, Leigh Breslau, project architect, and Brad McWhirter, project manager, all of Trahan, were on hand for the meeting. David Gamble, principal architect of the urban design firm Gamble Associates of Boston, and Edward Kruger, architect and project manager for Bravura Architects of Louisville, were also at the meeting.

Gamble Associates, which specializes in urban design, and Bravura are among the several firms that will team with Trahan on the Owensboro project. Bravura has a history with several downtown Louisville projects.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire, chairman of the steering committee and a member of the subcommittee that recommended Trahan to the full committee, said Trahan was the clear choice of the subcommittee.

Four firms were brought to Owensboro for interviews.

"At the end of two days, the subcommittee was unanimous for this firm," Haire said. "We were extremely excited and energized by them."

Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne, a subcommittee member, echoed Haire. "This is a very exciting day," Payne said. "We are finally launching a project to replace the Executive Inn Rivermont and put something back on the river."

Barry Alberts, managing partner of CityVisions, the consulting firm that is assisting the steering committee throughout the planning and construction of the convention and events center, praised the selection of Trahan. "You really did find a firm that was right for your aspirations," he said.

Breslau, who led the design work on Millennium Park in Chicago, said the design for the convention center would be done by the fall of next year, making it possible to put the project out for construction bids in early 2012.

"We understand the urgency of the project," Breslau said. "As early as the fall of 2011 our documents will be complete. ... That is quick."

Trey Trahan said the team his company has assembled will focus on authentic architecture that reflects the identity of the community.

"We believe in embedding ourselves in the community with real, authentic architecture that is informed by the people," he said. "It will truly represent the community."

Breslau said the company intends to learn more about the area's history, culture, ecosystem, environment, important and historic buildings, the downtown revitalization project, traffic patterns and parking as it develops a design unique to Owensboro.

Trahan did not list any local partners, while some other firms did, Haire said. But Haire said the preparation Trahan put in gave it an advantage.

"With their ties to the southern part of the United States and their Chicago involvement ... we have some of the brightest individuals in the country to make this project succeed," he said.

Reeves would not identify the other three finalists for the design contract. Only one of the 26 proposals had a local firm playing a lead role, but several of the proposals contained involvement of local companies.

Breslau led the design team for the 1.3-million-square-foot Zhongshan International Exhibition Center in southern China, the $254 million McCormick Place Phase 2 convention center expansion plan in Chicago (1.6 million square feet), the 800,000-sqaure-foot Suzhou, China, International Expo Center and the 558,000-square-foot Tanguu Hotel and Conference Center in Tianjin, China.

CityVisions and partner consulting firm ConsultEcon of Boston have recommended a convention center containing up to 138,350 square feet and featuring a 40,000-square-foot, dividable convention space, four ballrooms totaling 14,000 square feet, a room overlooking the Ohio River and a lecture hall with tiered seating.

The request for qualifications from architects contained six specific goals for the convention center. They are:

* To create a highly competitive public assembly venue that will provide modern, state-of-the-art meeting and exhibition facilities superior to comparable communities in the region and attract the potential markets as specified in the feasibility study.

* To contribute to the transformation of the former Executive Inn site and reconnect this portion of downtown with the river.

* To institute a strong visual and pedestrian axis along Veterans Boulevard to the RiverPark Center that reinforces the downtown core.

* To serve as an icon for the community that celebrates the vision, vitality and progress of Owensboro's downtown revitalization.

* To optimize the efficiency of the facility's operations and maintenance.

* To emphasize sustainability and environmentally responsible construction and operational materials and systems.