Convention center suffers damage after water main break

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Crews tear up a downtown sidewwalk to access a broken water main in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center
Crews tear up a downtown sidewwalk to access a broken water main in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center

Crews arrived around five o’clock in the morning to find the convention center’s main hallway filled with water. They saw buckled concrete floors and crumbling drywall and feared the building had suffered severe structural damage. But Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Michael Fowler says the way the floors were installed may have saved the building.

“The floor is designed to float,” Fowler says. “It’s not connected to the columns. The columns go 35 feet or more in to the ground and have a cement anchor, and that’s what holds the building up. Then the floors were poured around the columns on ground level, and they can rise or heave if there’s any freezing or anything like that.”

The building was cleared when officials feared a collapse in the center’s main hallway. In the hallway at that time, were products and displays belonging to the Longaberger Basket Company. Longaberger was scheduled to begin its annual convention, with many of the company’s top sales people from around the country gathering in Columbus through the weekend.

Longaberger spokesman Tom Matthews says convention center officials notified the company early enough that they were able to move many of the first-day meetings to nearby hotels and meeting rooms. But Matthews says many of their products and signage in the main hallway suffered severe water damage and is unusable.

“We did have some damage, some of it extensive,” Matthews says. “Particularly to our company store we set up with retail product, business supplies and things like that our business leaders can buy. That did suffer some pretty heavy damage.”

Matthews says despite the damages, Longaberger employees tell him they’re still comfortable using the convention center. And that’s good news for Experience Columbus.

The group markets the city to tourists and companies looking to use facilities like the Convention Center. Company spokesperson Beth Irvin says the space is needed with two upcoming conventions totaling more than 14,000 people.

“Initial assessment we’ve gotten from the convention center lead me to believe there is every possibility they may be accommodated as planned,” Irvin says. “If not, we’ll be hearing about that very soon and working with them to make alternative arrangements for their meeting here in town.”

Irvin says early talk of a collapse worried her and other local marketing heads. She says the fallout from a damaged convention center would be extensive.

“”This is an important industry to the community,” Irvin says. “If something would happen to the convention center, that would influence business in the restaurants, the hotels, the shops around it. So yes, it was scary.”

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