By Ronnie Wendt
Kalahari Resorts & Conventions opened its $35 million expansion in Wisconsin Dells with a big splash. It celebrated the return of the THAT Conference in the new space, from Aug. 5 to 8. About 1,700 attendees converged on the new building for the family-friendly tech event where more than 200 workshops and sessions took place.
“It is conferences like the THAT Conference that are among the reasons the new center was built,” says Tifani Jones, corporate director of sales for Kalahari Resorts & Conventions. “Groups like the THAT Conference were going to outgrow us. We also needed to expand to attract new business.”
Currently, the center hosts approximately 1,900 events annually, but Jones anticipates the number will escalate as word about the new space gets out. She reports, “There is a lot of interest in our expansion and we are doing a lot of tours.”
The center had its first big win when it landed the Wisconsin EMS Association’s annual EMS Conference & Expo, which takes place Nov. 13 to 17. The conference draws 2,000 attendees and over 150 exhibitors. It moved to the Kalahari after 33 years at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.
“They could not have come here without the addition,” Jones says. “To have a conference of that size come in so quickly was reassuring.”
The addition, begun in 2017, more than doubled the size of the existing convention center from 100,000 square feet to 212,000 square feet, making it the largest in the state. In comparison, the second largest, the Wisconsin Center, offers 265,565 square feet of meeting space.
The project created 10 new meeting rooms, a new ballroom and new exhibit space. It also fashioned lockable registration booths and client office spaces off the ballroom.
The new meeting rooms boost the center’s total number of meeting spaces to 45. There are three ballrooms now, with the new one being the largest at 52,000 square feet. This ballroom seats 4,200 people comfortably at round tables, while a theater setup accommodates up to 5,600 attendees. It also can break down into as many as 10 separate rooms.
“The new space provides a lot of flexibility,” says Jones. “It used to be if we had a large-scale conference going on, there was no space for mid-size meetings. Now we can have more than one event going on at the same time and we expect that to happen often.”
Interior decorator Natasha Lucke reports the Kalahari sought to fashion a space where creativity could flow. The lounge areas on either side of the main entrance and the speaker lounges fit the bill. These are multi- functional zones that can be used for coffee breaks, lunches and receptions.
“We have mini coffee shops, plenty of power and multiple types of seating arrangements,” she says.
Lucke notes the facility’s spacious outdoor patios also work well for breakouts and cocktail receptions.
Each carpeted space offers modern audiovisual and communications technology, including complimentary wireless internet, state-of-the-art sound and varied lighting.
Jones adds the company designed the expansion with the family in mind. There are two new and spacious family restrooms, adding 58 bathrooms stalls and accommodations for nursing mothers. Being family- friendly is important, she adds.
“Clients report they see a 20% increase in attendance when their events and the venue are family-friendly. Our resort offers something for the entire family. There is Tom Foolerys Adventure Park, the water parks, a variety of dining areas and the spas,” she says.
Crews also built another parking lot adjacent to the expansion, adding 2,357 complimentary parking stalls.
A core value of the family-owned resort and convention center is being genuine. “We strive to be genuine in the services we provide,” Jones says. “We will increase staffing as our volume grows, especially in the culinary and banquet areas, to maintain that value as we grow.”