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Architecture | Creative Collaboration

Partnerships key to EOP’s success in convention center design

By Mark Green

Kentucky International Convention Center. (EOP + HOK Chicago)

With “collaboration” the leading business strategy of the day – maybe the decade – the meetings and conventions industry is a hot business sector, and communities everywhere are upgrading their facilities. Louisville’s modernized Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC) just celebrated the first anniversary of its reopening, and the Lexington Convention Center is midway through an ambitious reconstruction that includes a “reimagining” of iconic Rupp Arena.

Lexington-based EOP Architects cites its own professional collaborations as a key to why it won contracts to design both of Kentucky’s two biggest convention center projects.

To reach its position as a convention center specialist, EOP first pursued the LCC-Rupp Arena reimagining project that former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray initiated early in his first term.

“It was the project” for the architecture community, said Mark Henderson Thompson, marketing director for EOP. Firm managers put a large bull’s-eye target on the wall in the break room with an image of Rupp Arena in the center. “It was the golden cow.”

Redesigning the nationally famous sports venue, venerated by University of Kentucky basketball fans across the commonwealth, is one of those once in a lifetime career opportunities. EOP created three different schemas, or plans, for the LCC-Rupp project with physical models that lit up, a wall of 8-foot-tall presentation boards, PowerPoints and video, including a “fly-through” perspective, Thompson said.

Importantly, EOP in its LCC-Rupp pitch also partnered with NBBJ, a global firm with expertise in sports facilities. NBBJ led design of Pauley Pavilion’s expansion at UCLA, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the modernistic Hangzhou Olympic Stadium in China.

EOP’s relationship with NBBJ dates to the first half of the previous decade in their work on the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet building in Frankfort.

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NBBJ + EOP with Don Grinberg, FAIA, won the LCC-Rupp contract. EOP is leading the design of the Lexington Convention Center with NBBJ and Grinberg, one of the nation’s leading architects specializing in public assembly facilities.

“We learned from Don … that conventioneers want to do more than just go to the convention and then to their hotel room,” Thompson said. They also want to see and experience their destination.

Meanwhile, officials in charge of the state-owned KICC needed to update that downtown Louisville venue. EOP teamed with HOK Chicago and with Grinberg again and won that contract as well. Although the Louisville project bid came well after Lexington’s, its two-year reconstruction was completed and KICC reopened in August 2018 only a month after the LCC-Rupp job finally broke ground in July 2018.

“Selecting the right collaboration partners” was an important step to winning both jobs, Thompson said.

The design of both facilities aims for “extroverted connectivity,” said Rick Ekhoff, EOP co-founder and design principal. The “closed box” buildings were given lots of glass  on outside walls and “transparency” so that visitors can see and connect with the downtown around them, and local residents “can feel the energy” of the activity – and economic impact – taking place inside. They incorporate visual themes and building materials to reflect the locale and surroundings.

Architectural relationships built during big design projects often continue after the construction is completed. For example, EOP is working currently on the renovation of a section of older roof at KICC and installation of audio-visual systems in its 175-seat conference theater.

Due to its KICC work, EOP opened a Louisville office, which had long been a goal, Thompson said. While the projects are big, the firm’s personnel numbers grew modestly, from 25 to around 30. It is not a goal of the firm to grow its staff much beyond that, but there has been a significant capital investment to increase its technical infrastructure.

Will EOP be doing other convention center projects?

“We hope,” Thompson said.

Mark Green is executive editor of The Lane ReportHe can be reached at [email protected].