DENVER -- If popularity were measured by the number of construction cranes rising over a city, then Colorado's largest city is "hot."

There are more than $1.5 billion in projects under way, including a doubling in size of the Colorado Convention Center, the building of a Hyatt hotel and the addition of a wing to the Denver Art Museum.

"We're super excited," said a Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman. "Denver is hot."

The biggest development is downtown, where the Colorado Convention Center is the site of a $300 million expansion that will transform the facility to the sixth-largest convention center west of the Mississippi and the 15th-largest in the nation. The opening is scheduled for December.

Work started two years ago when Currigan Exhibition Hall was demolished and light rail tracks relocated, paving the way for the expansion. The 17-story Terra Center building was imploded to make room for the center's new 5,000-seat auditorium.

The project also will add 292,000 square feet of exhibit space, 35,000 feet of meetings space and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom to the center.

The architectural firm handling the addition, Fentress Bradburn, is the original designer of the center (and the designer of Denver Airport).

In planning the expansion, the goal was to create the most practical and user-friendly convention center ever built, according to the bureau. Extensive focus groups with meetings planners were conducted, and final results will incorporate many of their suggestions.

The city of Denver financed the building of a convention headquarters hotel adjacent to the center. The winning bid went to Hyatt Hotels, which is constructing a 1,100-room hotel at 14th and California streets. The opening is set for late 2005.

The 37-story hotel will offer 85,000 square feet of meetings space, including a 30,000-square-foot ballroom. A three-story atrium will run for a city block.

"We have about 3,500 hotel rooms within walking distance of the center, but this will be the first hotel adjacent to the center," said the bureau spokeswoman.

Also rising downtown is a new wing for the Denver Art Museum. Architect Daniel Libeskind, who won the contest to rebuild the World Trade Center in New York, is the museum wing's designer.

"He was selected for the museum long before the World Trade Center project, and we are thrilled to have someone of his caliber building what will be a landmark for the city," said the bureau spokeswoman.

The 146,000-square-foot wing almost doubles the size of the museum. The architecture will be striking, with glass, titanium and granite walls in geometric shapes that flare out -- resembling the petals of a flower opening. A rooftop sculpture garden will offer views of the Rockies.

The wing is named the Frederic C. Hamilton Building in honor of the local businessman who donated $20 million toward the $100 million cost of the building. A 100-foot enclosed bridge will connect the current museum to the Hamilton building. Opening is expected sometime in 2006.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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