SAN JUAN -- Nowhere in San Juan is the construction pace more intense than at the site of the new convention center, already close to 50% complete and on track for an opening in mid-2005.

The center's dominant architectural feature -- a roof shaped like a giant, translucent wave -- is in place.

The selection of the flagship anchor hotel will be made next month from among the three finalists: Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood.

Jorge Pescara, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau (PRCB), which is the sales and marketing agent for the convention center, said the facility "will make Puerto Rico the meetings hub of the Americas."

"The center will be able to handle groups from 2,500 to 10,000 attendees," he added. "It will create a singular destination for conventions, trade shows, consumer shows and congresses. We will be able to go after 83% of all the conventions that are held now in the U.S."

In fact, the PRCB already has booked five large groups, including the 6,000 attendees expected at the annual U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in September 2007, beating out competing venues in Memphis, Nashville and Orlando.

The facility is not a stand-alone meetings facility but is the centerpiece of a 113-acre, $415 million planned urban development project "where people will live, work, visit and convene," Pescara said.

"The Puerto Rico Convention District will emerge as a bustling community of shops, restaurants, movie theaters, offices, residential units, hotels and plazas that are part of the district's master plan."

The convention center also will showcase Puerto Rico's tropical setting and cultural heritage, from the Caribbean Sea motif at the roofline to a massive, three-story glass wall on the front of the building that "will bring the ocean, landscape and skies indoors," Pescara said.

"Riding the escalators from the lobby, conventioneers will see palm trees, ocean and San Juan."

Meeting-room doors will replicate the doors of Old San Juan; artwork and floors will mirror Puerto Rico's El Yunque rain forest in color and design.

Natural materials of wood and stone will be used in many of the meetings rooms; the world's largest chandelier will dominate the ballroom, the largest in the Caribbean with a seating capacity for 4,388 people.

Pescara ticked off other fun facts:

• At 580,000 square feet, the convention center "is grand enough" to house 10 football fields, 123 basketball courts or 11 747s.

"If you hit a baseball from one end of it to the other, it would be a home run at a major league baseball park," Pescara said.

• The technologically advanced facility will have approximately 440 miles of wires and cables, longer than the miles of beaches that rim Puerto Rico.

• The 36,200 square feet of meetings space will be divisible into 25 breakout rooms. "That's more rooms than there are galleries in the Smithsonian

National Air & Space Museum," Pescara said.

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For more details on this article, see A building boom on Puerto Rico's 'Golden Shore'.

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