LeConte Center nearing completion

Downey: ‘It’s a showplace’
Sep. 30, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

 The LeConte Center, Pigeon Forge’s sparkling new 232,000-square foot convention center, is nearly ready, according to Leon Downey, director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.

Less than two weeks from the center’s grand opening, crews were scurrying Friday to finish preparations for the Oct. 9 public event that will launch the beginning for the multi-purpose facility that’s designed for large assemblies, trade shows and competitive events.

“We’re really close,” Downey said Friday. “We’re down to the finish on getting the building completed. It’s basically done. We’re just needing things touched up with paint and caulk and things like that. The buildings 100 percent done, basically, except for kind of things.”

The building already has 18-20 events scheduled, including the National Quartet Convention.

The 100,500-square feet LeConte Hall can be set up for seating over 12,000 people, and there won’t be a bad seat in the house, according to Downey.

“It’ll seat 12,116 people, theater-style, if they put the stage in the center of the room,” he said. “And the furtherest anybody will be away from the stage with that number of seating is 137 feet. It’s pretty amazing.”

Crews from the tourism department, public works and fire department have been busy with those seats of late.

“It’s getting all of those chairs in, getting them unloaded — they’re all individually-wrapped,” Downey laughed. “It’s been a major undertaking for our staff. The city staff is really great about helping us, public works and fire department, so it’s been a team effort. That’s been quite an ordeal, getting all of those in.”

Still, Downey’s not complaining. In fact, he seems thrilled.

“It’s going really well,” he said. “(The department of tourism) is in our new offices. They’ve moved our offices from the building we’ve been in the last probably 27-28 years over to the LeConte Center.

“So our Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism staff plus the LeConte Center staff will all be located in teh south end of the building on Jake Thomas Road. We’re all moved, living out of boxes.”

Things start soon for the center after its grand opening next month.

Right out of the gate the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies/Souvenir Super Show kicks things off in November. More events are already scheduled.

“All of the groups that we have licensed so far — it’ll probably 18-20 by the time we announce — have signed multi-year agreements,” Downey said. “Most of them have signed five-year license agreements.”

The National Quartet Convention is the most prestigious event signed thus far.  It’s been located in Louisville for the past 22 years.

“Last week we had four of our staff members up there at the National Quartet Convention for the whole week booking room-nights in our new housing bureau software that we’re doing in cooperation with Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association,” Downey said. “As of yesterday they had booked almost 5,000 room-nights in 30-40 properties within Pigeon Forge, and that event is (still) a year out. It’s really exciting.”

Around 40,000 people were expected to attend the last convention in Louisville earlier this month.

“I think when we get events like that National Quartet Convention in there we’ll see a lot of other groups get exposure to the building, see how beautiful it is, and we’ll get some additional conventions.”

Downey said he’s excited about the grand opening on Oct. 9.

“We’re excited every time we take people into the building,” he said. “They’re blown away with how beautiful it is.

“We want as many people to come see it on Oct. 9 as possibly can. It’ll be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. that day for the public to walk through and we’ll have staff stationed around to acquaint them with the building. It’s a showplace that everybody in the community can be proud of.”