New convention centre hoping to turn heads
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.
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
Anu and T.J. Sohal show off the new Infinity Convention Centre.