May 2, 1993
When Harry Perks, executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, gives visitors a tour of the Convention Center, he is flush with pride.
The facility is the second-largest convention center on the East Coast (only the Jacob K. Javits center in New York is larger). It covers all of two city blocks and part of another two – 1.4 million square feet in all, a quarter of which is exhibit space.
Yet Perks, an engineer by training, finds himself marveling at the vast Convention center’s little things.
“That’s what we’re so proud of is the details. Convention centers were always like gymnasiums before. This is more like upper-level hotels,” said Perks. “Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas (convention centers) are bigger, but we’ve got quality.”
He points out the polished-granite floors, limestone pillars and “cathedral quality” of the concourse area.
“Come in here,” he tells visitors, leading them into a restroom. “It’s beautiful,” he says, pointing to a marble vanity and intricately tiled walls. “You won’t see this anywhere else.”
But as proud as he is of the finer points, it is really the massive banquet and exhibit halls that are the meat of the Convention Center, Perks says.
The main exhibit hall, on an upper floor spanning two full blocks, is the size of seven football fields. It has a ramp and doors big enough to admit tractor-trailers full of exhibition goods. It’s perfect for a car show or a Mummers parade.
The main exhibit hall is 440,000-square feet, placing it among the top 10 convention centers in the country. (There is also another 300,000-square-feet of exhibition space elsewhere in the Convention Center.)
It has modern amenities, too: Exhibit hook-ups provide telephone, electricity, water, air conditioning and other utilities.
“I don’t care if you’re selling swimming pools, you can do it in here,” Perks says.
Elsewhere in the Convention Center, there are smaller banquet and conference rooms, a 600-seat theater and a kitchen, which will be run by 300 employees at peak. Parts of the Convention Center, including a 55,000-square-foot grand hall, won’t be completed until next year.
Next door, the Reading Terminal Market, which has been absorbed by the Convention center and refurbished at a cost of $12 million, gives conventioneers a wide selection of lunch counters, produce dealers, delis, ice cream shops and the like.