SAN JUAN -- Preparations for opening a convention center on a tropical island extend well beyond and begin far before funding is arranged, architectural plans drawn up and groundbreaking ceremonies held.

This was demonstrated recently at a seminar hosted by the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau and the Puerto Rico Convention Center as part of the bureau's ongoing Partner Education Program series for members, suppliers and the local community.

The education series, which began with the groundbreaking in November 2001 and will continue as an ongoing program until the center's projected opening in summer 2005, focuses on all aspects of convention operations.

The seminar, held at the Museo del Arte in San Juan, was attended by 200 convention bureau members, government officials and ambassadors.

Six hospitality experts, representing hotel chains, visitors bureaus and convention planners, contributed feedback on topics that ranged from the competitive positioning of Puerto Rico as a convention destination to the roles of a destination team and the key elements used by meeting planners when selecting a convention destination.

Jorge Pesquera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, described the center as "Puerto Rico's single most important project benefitting the tourism industry."

"It is our official entry into the major leagues in the convention and trade show marketplace," Pesquera said. "Meetings planners will get a state-of-the-art facility in the Caribbean with capacity ranging from 2,500 to more than 10,000 attendees."

He added that the center "will place Puerto Rico at the forefront of meetings destinations."

The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau already has accepted bookings for late 2005 and beyond.

The statistics are staggering from the aspect of size: 580,000 square feet, including a 152,700-square-foot exhibition hall, a 39,500-square-foot ballroom and 36,400 square feet of meetings space, accommodating 25 breakout rooms.

Depending upon the configuration, the center will be able to handle close to 17,600 in theater-style seating.

The facility will be the centerpiece of a $400 million investment project on a 113-acre site called the Puerto Rico Convention Center District, "one of the most ambitious waterfront projects of its kind in the Americas," according to Pesquera.

The site is the former U.S. Naval and Coast Guard base in San Juan's Isla Verde section, near Old San Juan, the airport and the Condado hotel and tourist district.

The Puerto Rico Convention Center District will include an adjacent 850-room hotel, to open in 2006; offices; shops; cinemas; and restaurants. Landscaping will include gardens, fountains, pedestrian walkways and entertainment venues.

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