Puerto Rico: largest Caribbean's convention center built

The Caribbean's largest convention center, big enough to house 10 U.S. football fields, is the first step in a grandiose Puerto Rican urban development program its promoters say will pump more than US$400 million (-330 million) every year into the U.S. territory's economy.

Construction began in February 2002, on the 113-acre (46-hectare) site on San Juan's Isla Grande peninsula, which was once a U.S. Navy base and is now run by Manuel Sanchez Biscombe, executive director of the Puerto Rico's Convention Center District Authority.

The center is the heart of the convention district. By 2012, it will be flanked by three hotels, three residential buildings, three office towers, restaurants, a movie complex, retail stores and recreation areas in a landscaped setting.

Construction of a 500-room Sheraton hotel begins next month, and the foundations of the first 110-unit residential building will be laid in December. The hotel will be finished in 2007. The contract for a 10-story office tower will be awarded this month.

Private investment in the convention district will amount to US$900 million (-751.3 million). Puerto Rico, with its year-round tropical climate and modern infrastructure, will give the new center its competitive edge.

In North America, some 440 convention centers make US$122 billion (-102 billion) annually. It's the 29th largest contributor to the U.S. gross domestic product. But nine out of ten North American convention centers lose money.

70 events have already been scheduled from November to the end of June. The center is set to open on Nov. 17.

From a terrace in the center, the visitor can see a docked cruise ship disembarking passengers. In the distance, there is Old San Juan, with its 500-year history.

Puerto Rico's center "may well find some success in competition for Caribbean events, but it faces a very competitive environment" on the U.S. mainland, where more than 110 other convention centers have bigger exhibit halls, Sanders said, reported AP.