In early 1990 the slogan “Let Ontario’s magic work for you” didn’t go over too well. The marketing and sales team of the official tourism bureau was attending to distinguish Ontario, California from Ontario, Canada with the caption “Toto, we’re not in Canada anymore.” The local community did not like it, especially the religious sector, and the campaign was soon dropped. Funny that today we still struggle with visitors thinking we are in Canada.
It was July of 1993 when the City of Ontario Council selected a 17-acre plot, at a price tag of $8.5M, near Ontario International Airport as the future site to build Ontario Convention Center. With a sale of $90M in bonds, it was time to move forward on this project. The project was promised to bring in up to $74M annually and create 789 jobs.
A ground-breaking ceremony was held on September 28, 1995.
The mid-’90s was a busy time for construction and Grand Openings in Southern California’s Ontario! Included in the array of new venues was Ontario Convention Center. On December 1, 1997, the state of the art, $66 million project was celebrated with a week-long calendar of special events which cumulated with a star-stuffed evening. The event nearly sold out with 956 people paying $150 for a ticket, which was pricey at the time for the region. The gala evening benefiting San Antonio Community Hospital was attended by politicians, civic leaders, local dignitaries, and celebrities including Debbie Boone, Barbara Eden, Chad Everett, and Jamie Farr. City Manager at that time, Greg Devereaux, said “Tonight really signifies the region coming of age. It’s a big step in the maturation of this region, and not only as a destination. This is another step in its social evolution.”
Ontario Convention Center was constructed in 20 months and was the very first “smart” center in the United States due to the unique technology and services offered. Fiber optic ports were stationed every 30 feet throughout the exhibit hall and all meeting rooms were set up for computers, telephones, and high-speed ISDN lines. Full video conferencing facilities and in-house audio/visual equipment included 17 television monitors.
Today the thoughtful design to capture the indoor/outdoor California experience is still enjoyed by guests. The glass wall in the lobby takes advantage of the beautiful mountain view, the Venetian terrazzo floor represents old-world service, and the nod to Ontario’s agriculture roots is acknowledged with a small grove of citrus trees that remains today, demonstrating the thoughtful design of the Ontario Convention Center.
One year earlier, Ontario Mills Mall had opened, then the California Speedway, followed by Ontario Convention Center. One year later the new terminals for Ontario International Airport opened. The City of Ontario Redevelopment Agency played a major role in the transformation of the city, making it a leading economic engine for the entire region.
Within seven (7) months the Ontario Convention Center was deemed a success. At that time, it was estimated that convention-goers spent an average of $201.83 apiece for every night they stayed in the City of Ontario. Between opening in 1997 and events book thru 2003 an estimated 107,720 room nights were purchased, relating to $21M in revenue for the economy.
The first few years were full of controversy and issues. By early 1999 several firms were ready to do battle over the opportunity to take over management of the venue.
In June of 2013 with new leadership, the City of Ontario approved a tourism marketing district to support the marketing and sales budget to promote the Ontario Convention Center and the surrounding area.
Over the years Ontario Convention Center has been very well maintained and today continues to host meetings, conventions, life celebration events, and more. In 2016 the main lobby underwent construction to include Café Connect and a new outdoor patio. Still focusing on the beautiful mountain view this redesigned space provides a dining place, a cup of coffee on to go, and a place to be outside for relaxation and renovation.