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Published: Monday, 1/10/2011

Kalahari to expand convention center

Kalahari Resorts plans to break ground in March on a $22 million expansion of its convention center in Erie County's Huron Township, near Sandusky, the company announced on Monday.

The project, expected to be completed in December, will include a 120,000-square-foot addition to the 95,000-square-foot convention center. Included in the expansion plans are features including a 38,000-square-foot grand ballroom and expo center, 14 meeting rooms, and a 4,000-square-foot outdoor plaza connected to an indoor ballroom.

Kalahari, based in Wisconsin, says the expansion will allow the center to hold 5,200 convention attendees, up from 2,200.

Chief Operating Officer Josef Haas said the company began considering the expansion more than two years ago to host more convention business, which he said has "grown steadily" each year. The Ohio resort had to turn away some bookings in the past couple of years. "We just couldn't accommodate them because the place isn't big enough to handle two or three groups, or the group was too big for us," Mr. Haas said.

The resort has 1,200 year-round employees but adds workers in the summer. Kalahari plans to add 100 to 140 full-time jobs when the expansion is complete.

Erie County Commissioner Patrick Shenigo said the project will provide an economic boost for the county, which counts Kalahari as its second-largest employer. "We're extremely pleased about this," he said.

Kalahari said in November that it was planning a $40 million expansion of its facility, which included the conference center upgrade, plus the addition of six to eight five-bedroom condominiums, called "Nyumbas." Mr. Haas said the condominiums also will be built this year, though the cost and details have not been finalized.

The Sandusky resort, which opened in 2005, underwent a $50 million expansion in 2007, which it said made it the largest indoor-outdoor water park in the nation. The complex includes a 173,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 77,000-square-foot outdoor water park, and 884 rooms and suites.

Kalahari spent $19 million to build its convention center in 2006.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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