Home » MRCK16: Lexington Center is focal point of growth

MRCK16: Lexington Center is focal point of growth

Travel spending in Fayette County was $2.02 billion in 2015

By Kathie Stamps

The Lexington Convention Center is set to undergo a $250 million renovation, including a new 100,000-s.f. exhibition space to better accommodate visitors from around the world.
The Lexington Convention Center is set to undergo a $250 million renovation, including a new 100,000-s.f. exhibition space to better accommodate visitors from around the world.

As one of Kentucky’s top industries, tourism had an economic impact of more than $13.7 billion in 2015. Travel spending in scenic Fayette County was $2.02 billion. Lexington and the surrounding counties of Central Kentucky represent all six pillars the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism uses in marketing and promotion: horses, bourbon, music, the arts, outdoors and culinary.

Last year, hotel room revenue was up 11 percent, at $173 million, with room nights booked through convention sales hitting 102,575. The growth was due in part to the 95,000 people who attended the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, but Lexington is no one-trick pony. Thanks to traditional and new attractions, Central Kentucky is poised to continue being a destination spot for travelers and convention attendees.

Frankfort Convention Center, located along the Kentucky River in the state’s capital, has a 5,100-seat arena and almost 17,000 s.f. of exhibit space across the street from the Capital Plaza Hotel, making it a convenient venue for sports tournaments, dance competitions, the Kentucky Book Fair each November, trade shows and legislative receptions.

Market Review of Central Kentucky 2016-17

At Lexington Center, a proposed major expansion put on hold in 2014 is back on track for a new, larger main convention space. The 2016 Kentucky General Assembly provided some money and authorized city tax authorization to back bonds for a $250 million project. The reconfigured facility will have a new 100,000-s.f. exhibition space, a 50 percent increase, said Bill Owen, president and CEO of the city-owned Lexington Center.

“This expansion will accommodate visitors from around the world who want to experience what Lexington has to offer,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX, which grows the economy by promoting Lexington to business and leisure travelers. Formerly the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, the name became VisitLEX in December 2013.

The Lexington Convention Center had 209 events in fiscal 2016, with total attendance of nearly 275,000. The 53 conventions and trade shows the center hosted had an increased attendance of 20,000 over fiscal 2015. During the upcoming year, the convention calendar expects attendance of 20,000 at the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention, as well as 8,000 for the International Conference of Missions, among others.

Lexington Center comprises Rupp Arena, the Lexington Convention Center, the Shops at Lexington Center, Triangle Park and the off-site Lexington Opera House. Attendance increased to 84,000 people for the 143 performances in fiscal 2016 at the 130-year-old Opera House theater. In addition to Broadway Live and Troubadour Concert Series, local arts organizations using the Opera House include the Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Children’s Theatre and the new Lexington Theatre Co.

ArtsPlace, a historical building downtown operated by LexArts, is home to the “Red Barn Radio” show. Weekly broadcasts of bluegrass and Americana music are recorded in front of a local audience and distributed globally.

Locals and tourists alike support arts organizations. LexArts was a beneficiary of Lexington Restaurant Week, a 10-day culinary event begun in 2013. Modeled after Restaurant Week that New York City originated in 1992, Lexington’s version has become “an event we can look forward to now, year after year,” according to Connie Jo Miller, owner of Group CJ, the agency orchestrating the event.

And then there is The Glitz at Irish Acres, an example of a restaurant – and antique gallery – being an attraction in and of itself. Located in a classic former Woodford County schoolhouse, locally sourced foods are prepared for lunch.

Nearly 900,000 people toured the Kentucky Bourbon Trail distillery tour in 2015. Four of the 10 distilleries are in Central Kentucky: Town Branch Distillery in Lexington; Woodford Reserve in Versailles; and both Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg. There’s also a newer beverage tour in Central Kentucky called the Brewgrass Trail that features eight craft breweries, six of which are in Lexington, plus one each in Paris and Danville.

From bourbon to horses, the Kentucky Horse Park is gearing up for an important celebration March 29, 2017, on the 100th anniversary of a famous Thoroughbred’s birth, none other than Man o’ War. The park hosts approximately 200 special events and horse shows throughout the year.

In honor of its 40th anniversary in downtown Lexington, Rupp Arena is getting “some very important and monumental upgrades to our video technology, audio and other technologies,” said Lexington Center CEO Owen. The arena’s $15 million upgrade brought a new center video scoreboard array with a state-of-the-art audio and public-address system, and will soon have high-speed wireless in the entire complex.

When the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team isn’t on the floor, the KHSAA Sweet 16 tournament or the NCAA women’s regional tournament is, or Ringling Bros. Circus or Disney on Ice, or any number of music acts and performing artists – 70 events in fiscal 2016, with 837,360 people in attendance.

Owen expects a three- to four-year process for the phases of the new convention center and exhibit hall.

“The Lexington Convention Center is the key component for recruiting conventions,” said VisitLEX’s Ramer, “and with this expansion, we predict a significant amount of private investment will follow this public investment in the tourism industry.”

Meeting & Convention Facilities

Apiary Catering & Events




Barrel House/Grand Reserve


Beaumont Inn

Harrodsburg – beaumontinn.com

Berry Mansion



Best Western Regency Inn


Blue Grass Airport


Boone Tavern

Berea – boonetavernhotel.com

Bright Leaf Golf Resort

Harrodsburg – brightleafgolfresort.com

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Frankfort – buffalotrace.com

Campbell House Lexington, Curio Collection by Hilton


Capital Plaza Hotel

Frankfort – capitalplazaky.com

Carrick House


Clarion Hotel Convention Center North


Crowne Plaza – The Campbell House


Doubletree Guest Suites by Hilton Lexington


Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington




Frankfort Convention Center

Frankfort – frankfortconventioncenter.com

Georgetown College Conference Center


Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa


Headley-Whitney Museum


Hilary J. Boone Center


Hilton Lexington Downtown


Hyatt Regency Lexington


Keeneland and Keene Barn


Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

Berea – kyartisancenter.ky.gov

Kentucky Horse Park


Kentucky Theater


Lexington Convention Center


The Livery


Ramada Conference Center


Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Harrodsburg – shakervillageky.org

Spindletop Hall


The Thoroughbred Center


Woodford Reserve Distillery

Versailles – woodfordreserve.com


African Cemetery No. 2

Historic burial grounds


The Arboretum – State Botanical Garden of Kentucky


Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate

Home of U.S. House Speaker, Senator, statesman


Aviation Museum of Kentucky

Blue Grass Airport


Bluegrass Heritage Museum

Winchester – bgheritage.com

Camp Nelson

Civil War Heritage Park

Nicholasville – campnelson.org

Cane Ridge Meeting House

Site of famous 1801 revival

Paris – caneridge.org

Capital City Museum

Frankfort – capitalcitymuseum.com

Central Bank Thursday Night Live

Weekly downtown concert


Commonwealth Stadium

University of Kentucky football stadium


Daniel Boone’s Grave

Final resting place of noted pioneer

Frankfort Cemetery

Boone Station State Historic Site

With one-mile self-guided trail


Boyd Orchards

Versailles – boydorchards.com

Constitution Square State Historic Site

Site of 10 state constitutional conventions

Danville –


Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival

Winchester – danielboonepioneerfestival.com

Duncan Tavern

Three-story stone tavern, built 1788

Paris – duncantavern.com

Explorium of Lexington

Hands-on children’s museum


First African Baptist Church

Founded 1790


Fort Boonesborough State Park

Reconstructed pioneer fort

Richmond – parks.ky.gov

Governor’s Mansion

Frankfort – governorsmansion.ky.gov/

Henry Clay’s Law Office

Built in 1803


High Bridge Historic Park

Landmark railroad bridge

Kentucky River near Wilmore

Hopewell Museum

Bourbon County art and history

Paris – hopewellmuseum.org

Hummel Planetarium

Richmond – planetarium.eku.edu

Hunt-Morgan House

1814 home of state’s first millionaire


Jack Jouett House

Home of “Paul Revere of the South”

Versailles – jouetthouse.org

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

Berea – kyartisancenter.ky.gov

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Tour legendary distilleries


Kentucky Doll & Toy Museum

Carlisle – kydollandtoymuseum.com

Kentucky Horse Park


Kentucky Military History Museum

Frankfort – history.ky.gov

Kentucky State Capitol

Beaux Art structure, completed 1909

Frankfort – historicproperties.ky.gov/hp/capitol/

Latrobe’s Pope Villa

Designed by father of American architecture


Lexington Farmers Market


Lexington Legends

Minor league baseball


Lexington Lions Bluegrass Fair


Liberty Hall Historic Site

Frankfort – libertyhall.org

Mary Todd Lincoln House


McConnell Springs

Campsite of first settlers, nature sanctuary


Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden

Celebrates famous African American jockey


Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Home of unique sandstone arch


Norton Center for the Arts

Danville – nortoncenter.com

Old Fort Harrod State Park

Replica of original settlement


Old Friends Farm

Thoroughbred retirement facility


Old Governor’s Mansion

Built 1797-98

Frankfort – historicproperties.ky.gov/hp/ogm/

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site

State’s largest Civil War battle

Perryville – parks.ky.gov

Raven Run Nature Sanctuary


Rev. Jesse R. Ziegler House

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright


RunTheBluegrass Half Marathon

Lexington’s only half marathon


Roots & Heritage Festival


Rupp Arena

Home of UK men’s basketball team


Salato Wildlife Education Center

Explore Kentucky plants, animals



Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Restored Shaker community, farm

Harrodsburg – shakervillageky.org

Southern Lights

Holiday lights display

Kentucky Horse Park


Spindletop Hall

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History

Frankfort – history.ky.gov

Thoroughbred Breeders Museum, Inc.

Preserving history of Thoroughbred breeding farms

Paris – tbmuseum.org

Thoroughbred Park

Downtown tribute to the racehorse


Valley View Ferry

Ferry crossing Kentucky River since 1785

Fayette, Jessamine and Madison counties


Ward Hall

Antebellum Greek Revival mansion

Georgetown – wardhall.net

Waveland State Historic Site

Greek Revival mansion


William Whitley House State Historic Site

Kentucky’s first brick home


Woodford County Historical Society Museum

Versailles – woodfordkyhistory.org