LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- It's a big step toward the $180 million renovation of the Louisville International Convention Center in the heart of downtown Louisville.
A plan to pay for the project.
Thousands of visitors are in town for Derby weekend, filling up hotels and restaurants. But many of those people are here for only one weekend a year.
So what brings visitors to Louisville the other 51 weeks of the year.
It is the huge convention business.
"In our last fiscal year we had 536 conventions that we hosted in the city," says the CEO of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, "and that was an economic impact of $267 million."
But to keep those visitors coming, the city needs to have top-drawer facilities. And competition is stiff.
Nearby cities like Nashville and Indianapolis have opened new convention centers.
"A recent study showed that if we didn't do something we were going to lose ten percent of our business," says Rip Rippetoe, the CEO of the Kentucky State Fair Board which operates the downtown convention center as well as the giant expo center.
So on Thursday afternoon at the center, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear ceremoniously signed into law House Bill 401.
The bill allows the local hotel room tax to pay off the bonds issued for the project. The state is contributing an additional $56 million in bonds.
"Convention centers are tools to generate business and tourism," the governor said.
The Louisville Metro Council will be asked for a one percent increase in the hotel tax to help pay for the expansion.
"This is not a new tax to the citizens of Louisville," explains Williams, "it is a bed tax guests pay when they are checking out of their hotels."
The renovation of the convention center will not require any additional land downtown and Third Street will remain open.
"Outside it will look completely different," says Rippetoe, "especially between Third and Fourth Streets, with the main entrance being along the Fourth Street side, but it will now be in the same footprint that now exists."
Preliminary plans call for the inside of the convention center to be reconfigured.
"What we can do," says Rippetoe, "is add a contiguous exhibit hall of 200,000 square feet, instead of it just being 144,000 and another separate space of about 45,000."
It will likely be 2017 at the earliest before the renovation is completes.