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America’s Convention Center Kings Want You Wearing Lanyards Again

The architects of Populous are schmoozing with local officials everywhere, urging them to pour money into facilities optimized for organized professional fun.

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Illustration: Yann Kebbi for Bloomberg Businessweek

In a better time, the five exhibition halls of the BMO Centre in Calgary might have been flooded with thousands of dermatologists or tax attorneys. You can imagine their voices as they roam a sea of exhibitors’ booths, bleary-eyed from the previous night’s barhopping, wondering how they’ll clear their heads in time for happy hour. Instead: 250,000 square feet of dead silence, much as the center has been throughout the pandemic.

Listen carefully, though, and you can hear unexpected activity—the low thrum of cranes and construction workers going about their business outside. Counterintuitively, construction is under way on a $390 million expansion, planned and financed before the pandemic began, that will double the BMO Centre’s size. And who’s here today to take it all in but Michael Lockwood, head of the convention center team at Populous, an architecture firm in Kansas City, Mo. “You kind of have to pinch yourself,” he says. “You’re, like, all right, it’s happening.” Bundled in a black overcoat on a wintry February day, the designer gazes up at the steel skeleton rising beside the existing building and describes what the expanded center will be like when it opens in 2024.