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While the TV sitcom title It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may not serve as an always reliable weather forecast, it’s definitely an apt description of the city’s outlook as a convention destination.

On hand to view the rapidly progressing expansion of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, Meetings East recently got a first-hand look at how the $777 million construction project is not only transforming a meetings facility but serving as an agent of change for an entire neighborhood.

The center’s new main entrance, a soaring glass atrium rising 10 stories above North Broad Street, frames views of several exciting new civic spaces taking shape. Chief among them is the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ Lenfest Plaza, a pedestrian-friendly area with landscaping, outdoor art and event space that will serve as a gateway to Philadelphia’s Museum Mile. Like the center expansion, the plaza is set to be unveiled in spring 2011.

"Like a rock thrown out into a pond, the work we’re doing at the center is rippling out and having a positive impact on our neighbors," says Ahmeenah Young, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. "We’re a catalyst for development."

Ripples from the convention center expansion have already spawned a wave of new hotels in the city, including the 201-room Le Meridien Philadelphia, which made its debut last month with meeting spaces that include a grand ballroom and the Library, an elegantly paneled room overlooking City Hall. Also within a close walk to the center is the new 230-room Hotel Palomar by Kimpton, an eco-friendly property with a festive rooftop ballroom. Both are located in historic buildings, blending Art Deco detailing with contemporary style.

When the expansion is unveiled next March, the Pennsylvania Convention Center will give Philadelphia bragging rights to the Northeast’s largest amount of contiguous exhibit space (528,000 square feet) as well as its largest ballroom (55,400 square feet), according to Jack Ferguson, executive vice president of the Philadelphia CVB.

The building, which will be increased in size by 62 percent, will have two separate entrances, enabling two conventions to be held simultaneously. According to Ferguson, the expanded center has already garnered over $2 billion worth of new bookings, including LIGHTFAIR, the world’s largest architectural and commercial lighting trade show, which will be held May 15-19 next year.

"LIGHTFAIR could not have brought their trade show here without an expanded convention center," Ferguson says. "This is just the beginning of many, many more trade shows to come here."

A sunny forecast, indeed.