Members of the meetings industry were recently treated to a preview of the expansion work currently underway at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

At the briefing, CEO Peter King revealed details of a new “jewel in the crown” – a 1000-seat retractable Goldfields Theatre within the new 20,000 square metre development.

Due to open in April 2018, the development brings the MCEC footprint up to 70,000 square metres, of which 40,000 square metres will be contiguous pillar-less exhibition space, “to allow you to think big and dream bigger,” Mr King says.

Goldfields Theatre is being built to higher specifications than the new 9000 square metre exhibition halls within which it sits.

The theatre space has acoustically treated adjustable walls and fully automated seating providing organisers with an alternative large meeting space when the existing 5400 seat plenary is too large or unavailable.

Mr King explained the new theatre would allow for larger events within the plenary, “rather than chopping up the existing space to accommodate smaller pieces of business”.

He said apart from the new exhibition space the expansion includes “some small meeting rooms, a gala dining space for 450 people on the first level, a whole lot of other informal spaces, which everyone seems to need these days… and we’ve got a new 140-seat café/bar”.

He told micenet that with the expansion larger events were now being targeted.

“We’ve got a list of 45 to 50 of what we call ‘hero events’, major international events. We were in IMEX in the US and we talked to a couple of people there about anything up to 40,000

“That would blow the city apart… but there is business out there. There are some opportunities out there with really big numbers.

“In terms of domestic business we are getting a lot of people coming to us talking about having to grow their existing business – some of the big exhibition players are looking for more space – so it allows us to grow their business.

“We are looking at a whole lot of different content providers now. It allows us again to diversify which is great for Melbourne because it is not only about international or interstate visitation because a lot of people in Melbourne get access to use this place for entertainment, networking… all those sort of things.”

One of the biggies already on the books is the Lions Convention in 2024 for 20,000.

Speaking to an audience that included former Victorian Premier, John Brumby, now chair of MCEC, Mr King ignited the Melbourne v Sydney debate, telling industry luminaries that “this will be without doubt the easiest place to do business”.

He expanded on this speaking to micenet later: “…Sydney’s done a great job building a greenfield site, but I don’t think there’s any doubt this will be an easier place to do business functionally. Melbourne is a great destination to be able to walk from hotels, walk around the city and around the site. These are just some of the elements that make it a very compelling reason to do business in Melbourne.

“Some types of business suit Sydney really well; we believe there’s a lot of people who are much more comfortable doing business in Melbourne…we’ve got such a great reputation.”