‘Wow’ fac­tor

New con­ven­tion cen­tre hop­ing to turn heads

Ottawa Business Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID SALI david@obj.ca

Ot­tawa’s new­est con­ven­tion cen­tre hasn’t yet opened to the pub­lic, but it’s al­ready landed enough high-pro­file book­ings to keep a whole team of event plan­ners busy.

The $20-mil­lion In­fin­ity Con­ven­tion Cen­tre will be of­fi­cially chris­tened at a gala hosted by Ben Mul­roney of CTV’s Your Morn­ing on Oct. 13. Lo­cated on Gib­ford Drive, near the cor­ner of Hunt Club Road and Up­lands Drive north of the Ot­tawa In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the 15,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity is billing it­self as a more in­ti­mate com­ple­ment to the much larger EY Cen­tre a few blocks to the south.

While the EY Cen­tre tends to draw crowds well into the thou­sands for shows such as Ot­tawa Comic­con and the Wine and Food Fes­ti­val, the In­fin­ity Cen­tre has a ca­pac­ity of just 1,200. De­signed by lo­cal ar­chi­tect Robert Wood­man with in­te­rior fin­ish­ings by renowned firm Royal De­sign, the build­ing’s main ball­room fea­tures el­e­gant touches such as mar­ble floor­ing and a crys­tal chan­de­lier.

“We def­i­nitely wanted the ‘wow’ fac­tor,” says Anu So­hal, who is part of the So­hal fam­ily own­er­ship group along with her hus­band T.J., her brother-in-law Sonny and his wife Ki­ran.

“The main goal (was) I wanted any­one who walked in the front doors to be taken aback and, right off the hop, say, ‘You know what? I have to have my event here.’ From the feed­back we’ve been get­ting, I think we’ve achieved it.”

In part­ner­ship with lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur Anand Ag­gar­wal, the So­hal fam­ily also owns three ho­tels lo­cated close to the In­fin­ity Cen­tre – the nearby Hamp­ton Inn and Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press & Suites, both on Gib­ford Drive, and the Res­i­dence Inn Mar­riott on Walk­ley Road – with a to­tal of about 300 rooms. They are also slated to open a 100-unit Home­wood Suites by Hil­ton ho­tel a half-block from the In­fin­ity Cen­tre on Paul Anka Drive in early 2018.

SEN­A­TORS CON­NEC­TION

When the first of those prop­er­ties, the Hol­i­day Inn, opened in 2008, Ms. So­hal says she was con­stantly asked what rates were like for wed­ding fa­cil­i­ties near the ho­tel. To her dis­may, she had a hard time find­ing suit­able venues in the neigh­bour­hood.

“I thought there was a real need for some­thing like this,” she says.

Judg­ing by ad­vance book­ings, it ap­pears she was right. The first wed­ding re­cep­tion at the fa­cil­ity is sched­uled for Oct. 1, nearly two weeks be­fore its of­fi­cial open­ing. Next May, the build­ing will host 275 guests to cel­e­brate the mar­riage of Dil­lon Leeder, the son of Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors pres­i­dent Cyril Leeder, and Dil­lon’s fi­ancée Court­ney Nor­ris.

The Sen­a­tors con­nec­tion is fit­ting – the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­cently signed a multi-year deal that will make In­fin­ity the of­fi­cial con­ven­tion cen­tre of the NHL club.

“We’re very ex­cited about that,” Ms. So­hal says.

And to show there is no bud­ding ri­valry be­tween the up­start new fa­cil­ity and its more-es­tab­lished neigh­bour to the south, she points out that the VIP wine- and food-tast­ing por­tion of the up­com­ing Ot­tawa Wine and Food Fes­ti­val will also take place at In­fin­ity while the main event hap­pens down the road at the EY Cen­tre.

There is plenty of room in the city’s south end for both fa­cil­i­ties, Ms. So­hal says.

“I think we’ll be great part­ners as op­posed to du­elling com­peti­tors. We’re very dif­fer­ent as far as venues are con­cerned. The feel of (the In­fin­ity Cen­tre) is dif­fer­ent.”

State-of-the-art ameni­ties such as fully dig­i­tal LED light­ing that can dis­play up to 256 colours, a cus­tom sound sys­tem and seven 200-inch high-def­i­ni­tion screens with dig­i­tal pro­jec­tors, are bound to de­light event-go­ers’ eyes and ears, Ms. So­hal says.

If ex­ec­u­tive chef Ja­son Peters has his way, their stom­achs will be just as well taken care of.

Mr. Peters, who grad­u­ated from Le Cor­don Bleu Paris be­fore em­bark­ing on a 15-year ca­reer at ho­tels and con­ven­tion fa­cil­i­ties around the world, heads up a high-ca­pac­ity kitchen that can serve 2,000 gourmet meals in one sit­ting. Sep­a­rate plat­ing ar­eas al­low the kitchen to pre­pare meals for up to three dif­fer­ent events at a time.

Mr. Peters and his team will cre­ate that cui­sine us­ing in­gre­di­ents from a host of lo­cal sup­pli­ers, in­clud­ing sus­tain­able seafood from Whales­bone and fresh beef from An­der­son Farms in Ash­ton.

Ms. So­hal says the culi­nary staff want din­ing at the In­fin­ity Cen­tre to be a true “farm-to-ta­ble” ex­pe­ri­ence.

“That’s Ja­son’s pas­sion,” she says. “He was look­ing for a place where he could ac­tu­ally make it hap­pen, so that’s very ex­cit­ing.”

With space for 400 ve­hi­cles on the prop­erty, park­ing shouldn’t be an is­sue ei­ther, Ms. So­hal adds.

An­a­lyst Barry Na­ba­tian of Ot­tawa mar­ket re­search firm Shore-Tanner & As­so­ciates says it’s not sur­pris­ing that an­other events cen­tre has sprung up near the air­port.

The EY Cen­tre has been busier than even its own­ers ex­pected since it opened, he says, and with an­nual pas­sen­ger vol­umes at the air­port near­ing the fivemil­lion mark, there should be no short­age of tak­ers for events at both fa­cil­i­ties.

“The con­ven­tion cen­tre busi­ness is grow­ing,” Mr. Na­ba­tian says, not­ing his firm is cur­rently con­duct­ing a study for a group look­ing at build­ing an­other ho­tel and con­ven­tion cen­tre in the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion. “The de­mand is there.”

“We def­i­nitely wanted the ‘wow’ fac­tor. The main goal (was) I wanted any­one who walked in the front doors to be taken aback and, right off the hop, say, ‘You know what? I have to have my event here.’” – ANU SO­HAL, MEM­BER OF OWN­ER­SHIP GROUP AT NEW IN­FIN­ITY CON­FER­ENCE CEN­TRE

PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

Anu and T.J. So­hal show off the new In­fin­ity Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

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