In 1974, Battelle Memorial Institute contributed $36.5 million and established the Battelle Commons Company to develop a convention facility in downtown Columbus. Construction began in February 1978, with doors to the Ohio Center, and its premier venue, Battelle Hall, opening on September 10, 1980. Battelle Hall quickly became known as a versatile venue embracing family shows, rock concerts, pop music concerts, theatrical productions and sporting events. Over the years, Battelle Hall hosted the championship Columbus Quest women’s professional basketball team, professional wrestling, circus elephants, Ted Nugent, Ike & Tina Turner, Barney the purple costumed dinosaur, and Purple Rain singer Prince. Eventually, additional concert facilities were built throughout the city. Battelle Hall adapted, becoming the place to be for large public assemblies, trade shows, cheerleading events and other athletic competitions.
In 1988, Columbus city officials held a competition for the long-planned Greater Columbus Convention Center. Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman and Holt Hinshaw Pfau Jones, along with their associate architects, submitted proposals for the competition, which was funded by Leslie Wexner, chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Limited Brands. Eisenman won with a departure from his usual grid-based buildings.
Noting that the site of the convention center had formerly been occupied by a train station, Eisenman pointed out that Columbus, in the age of information, was very much on-line with fiber-optic cables, vast highways for flows of information. For Eisenman, the railroad tracks, highways and cables all converged as contemporary symbols to inspire the design of the building.
The Convention Center is composed of long fingers twisting their way between the truck docks at the back of the site and the abstract streetscape with front doors along High Street. The architectural drama of the center begins with the way its “finger bays” are extruded through the building—how they converge and diverge, creating moments of focused intensity along with much more relaxed areas. The spaces and forms are so diverse that even the long concourse from the north side of the building to the south—basically a straight-shot corridor—constitutes a fascinating promenade of spatial discovery. The Greater Columbus Convention Center conveys physical efficiency and restores architecture to a level of experience that is thrilling.
When the doors opened in 1993, excited reaction to the new Greater Columbus Convention Center traveled swiftly through the industry. Only five years later, the center announced a major expansion and renovation due to overwhelming demand. Upon completion of the project in 2001, the Convention Center grew to nearly 1.7 million square feet.
Through the continual reinvestment in the facility by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, Battelle Hall was rejuvenated by a $40 million transformation into Battelle Grand, Ohio’s largest multi-purpose ballroom. The renaissance of the space resulted in The Columbus Dispatch referring to Battelle Grand as “the new place to be” even before it opened its doors, further confirming Battelle Grand’s rapid ascent as the new crown jewel of the Greater Columbus Convention Center and beyond.
While the Greater Columbus Convention Center is a modern landmark amid the downtown landscape of the city, the building is rich with history both inside and out. In coincidental but important ways, the architecture of the Greater Columbus Convention Center recalls the grandly arcaded Union Station, designed by Daniel Burnham, which once stood on the same site. The Battelle Hall foyer features an important part of Columbus cultural history in the fully restored Emerson Burkhart mural titled Music. And, just outside our north entrance stands a historical marker commemorating the site of Tod Barracks and Ohio’s contributions to the Civil War.