Exposition Gardens

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The Lake City Park District Horticultural Center in eastern Exposition Gardens, looking south towards downtown Lake City
Exposition Gardens is the largest park in Lake City. Dating back to 1891, the park was the site of the 1938 Global Exposition. Today, Exposition Gardens is home to the Lake City Zoo, the Lake City Public Market, the Randall Stephens Convention Center, and four of Lake City’s six professional sports teams.

History

1891-1934: Central Park

As Lake City rapidly expanded at the end of the 19th Century, city leaders noticed a significant lack of open spaces in the city. In 1888, the city council passed the Citywide Health and Wellness Initiative, which among other improvements called for the creation of five major parks to be scattered throughout Lake City: West Park, near Metamora; Lake Park, to be constructed on reclaimed land near downtown; South Park (since renamed Obigamide Park), on the Lake County government reservation; East Park (renamed Independence Park in honor of the Federal States centennial), at 21st Terrace and Minnonigan Street; and Central Park, spanning from Federal Avenue to Trinity Avenue and from 9th (now Ivesdale) Street to the Lake City Union Railroad at 16th (now Quincy) Street. Each of these parks would have its own commission to oversee planning, construction, and operation of each park using revenues generated from new taxing districts created specifically for each park.

Heavily inspired by Memorial Park in Stanton, Central Park was intended to be a mix of carefully designed natural areas including a large lake, manicured gardens, and fields and play spaces for more active recreational uses. The Central Park Commission selected prominent landscape architect Horace Altgeld to design the park. However, Altgeld’s death in 1890 led to a far more basic design being used for the park’s 1891 opening, although the Zoological Gardens opened as planned. While plans for a more refined park were desired, a major stock market collapse in 1902 and subsequent economic downturn forced Lake City to consolidate the five park commissions into one Park District to oversee all parks in Lake City. Following the economic recession, in an effort to maintain and stimulate economic development downtown, the Park District chose to focus on creating Lake Park using landfill from the Port of Lake City dredging operation in Little Lake Sauganash rather than upgrading Central Park.

As Lake City continued to grow and following the selection of Wallawaukee over Lake City for the Federal States’ nominee city to host the 1916 Geolympiad, business groups started taking more seriously the idea that Lake City should host an international exposition, both for matters of civic pride and to generate new revenues. In 1934, Lake City officially announced that it would host the 1938 International Exposition in conjunction with the city’s centennial. The exposition would be hosted in the mostly-clean-slate Central Park. Construction on the exposition grounds began in 1935.

1934-1938: International Exposition

The 1938 International Exposition was known as the Century of Progress Exposition, celebrating Lake City’s centennial, with a particular focus on the transportation technological innovations that made a Lake City an important hub in the Federal States. The exposition opened in September 1937 and ran through May of 1938.

The exposition itself was focused on a new east-west promenade constructed along LaSalle Street, which was then renamed Exposition Boulevard. Exposition Boulevard was extended east to the Trenchent Transfer train station, where many fair-goers arrived for the exposition. This area became known as “The Concourse” and was a popular neighborhood in its own right. (Most of The Concourse and Exposition Boulevard was demolished in 1959 to make room for the Exposition Expressway, now FS-24.) The Lake City Union Railroad also constructed a massive new terminal on the fairgrounds, which were expanded to accommodate the station. The exposition’s administrative offices were located in the floors above the headhouse. Today, the Exposition Transportation Building is one of three remaining structures from the fair, although it sits abandoned and deteriorating.

Along Exposition Boulevard in Central Park – subsequently renamed Exposition Gardens – were various pavilions showcasing international advancements in electricity, communication, agriculture, industry, the arts, and more. At the center was the Four Corners Fountain, a pond in the shape of a six-pointed star with 18 individual fountains representing key milestones, events, or organizations in Lake City’s history. At the center of the fountain is the Four Corners Monument, an iconic Art Deco metallic structure of a globe. Eight small gardens surround the fountain, each with ornamental flowers from a different continent. Also surrounding the main fountain are eight small square fountains, each representing one of the eight continents. Representatives from each continent were invited to stock their pond with local aquatic life that visitors would be able to interact with. The ponds are heated to protect the aquatic life from freezing during the cold Minnonigan winters. To this day the ponds remain a modern visitor attraction.

While the exposition was focused on technological innovation, the fair also became a major culinary destination. In advance of the exposition, the Lake City Public Market opened in 1936 as a central hub for wholesale meat, vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and more for the expected influx of restaurants and visitors. The Public Market thrived and continues to operate today.

Across LeBeque Avenue from the Public Market is the Global Village, four covered open-air pavilions overlooking large gardens and a second fountain where international restauranteurs could serve foods during the fair. Unique to the Exposition were dedicated gardens for growing small crops from their native lands, which also allowed for guided tours and demonstrations of farming techniques. While these gardens were intended to become a permanent feature, most of the foreign plants did not survive the cold winter and there were additional concerns about invasive species, so the gardens became community gardens for local residents.

An estimated 3 million visitors attended the exposition and, while most arrived by train, the exposition showcased the potential for commercial aviation within the Federal States, and was seen as a major catalyst for expanding and improving Gunnison International Airport.

1939-1969: Decline

While some of the structures used in the exposition were designed for long-term use, most of the buildings constructed were intended to be temporary and moreover did not anticipate occupancy during the colder winter months. By 1942, only three buildings constructed for the exposition remained in Expo Gardens: the Exposition Transportation Building, which already had been abandoned; the grand Crystal Gardens building, which was repurposed into the Lake City Park District’s primary greenhouse; and the Grand Coliseum, which continued to host events, most frequently Centurion baseball games and Minutemen gridiron football games. The southern portion of Expo Gardens fell into decline, with the Park District eventually replacing the southwest fields with a massive surface parking lot for the Coliseum. In 1959, the Exposition Expressway was constructed, replacing Exposition Boulevard east of 7th Terrace; Bridge Street was also removed and replaced with the Northwest Expressway connecting the Stone Rapids Bridge to the Exposition Expressway, further isolating the Exposition Transportation Building from the rest of the park. While the 1964 construction of the Hutchinson Toll Bridge mostly spared Expo Gardens itself by tunneling underneath the park and the Four Corners Fountain, the new interchanges required to link with the Cherry Avenue Expressway and the Northwest/Exposition Expressway was extremely disruptive and contributed to the decline of the neighborhood as a whole.

1970-Present: Randall Stephens Convention Center

In an effort to stimulate the neighborhood and to fight ongoing business relocations to the suburbs, in 1970 the City Council created the Lake City Exposition Authority, a new agency funded by hotel and restaurant taxes in Lake City that would be responsible for creating a convention center in Expo Gardens. In 1974, two new buildings opened: the Exposition Gardens Convention Center at the southeast corner of Natoma Street and Federal Avenue, and the Expo Gardens Arena at Kendall Street and Federal Avenue. The Convention Center opened with 11,225 square meters of available exhibit space; the Arena became the home of the Lake City Rivermen hockey team and the Lake City Lancers basketball team beginning with the 1975 season.

The Convention Center was quickly successful and profitable, leading to significant expansions in 1988, 1994, 2005, and 2015. The 1988 expansion, which added the massive Building 2, also included renaming the facility as the Randall Stephens Convention Center after the long-serving Mayor of Lake City who oversaw the creation of the exposition authority. The 2015 expansion also included the purchase, renovation, and reopening of the historic Hotel Evans as The Wilberding - Hotel Evans, a four-star hotel with additional conference and event space.

Between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Expo Gardens Arena was demolished and replaced by the Axcess Arena in the same location.

Future Plans

While plans for the Exposition Transportation Building remain fluid, the building has been designated as a Lake City Historic Landmark. The 2018 expressway removal initiative included removing the Northwest Expressway entirely and replacing it with a modern Bridge Street boulevard to better link the Exposition Transportation Building back to the rest of Expo Gardens.

Park Features

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Exposition Gardens is generally bounded by the Lake City Union Railroad tracks to the north; Federal Avenue to the west; Ivesdale Street to the south; and Trinity Avenue, North Street, and Carnaby Avenue to the east. The Lake City Zoo is located in the northwestern corner of Exposition Gardens, with the Randall Stephens Convention Center stretching across the middle of the park and the professional sporting facilities in the southern half of the park. The abandoned Exposition Transportation Building is located in the northeast corner of the park. Lake County General Hospital is located just east of Exposition Gardens.

Lake City Public Market

Interior of the Lake City Public Market
The Lake City Public Market is located at 1301 N. LeBeque Avenue, just north of Building 2 of the Randall Stephens Convention Center. The building was constructed in 1936, conveniently located near the Exposition Transportation Building and intended as a wholesale food hub for exhibitors at the 1938 International Exposition and for other local restaurants. However, the Public Market has always been open to the general public as well. The Public Market remains a major tourist attraction in Lake City, notable for its wide variety of local food vendors: while some chain restaurants in Lake City still use the Public Market for supplies, chain vendors are prohibited from making sales at the Public Market.

Global Village Gardens

Originally constructed to showcase farming techniques and native plants from all eight countries as part of the 1938 International Exposition, the Global Village Gardens remain as an important community garden for Lake City's North Side residents. The Global Village Gardens includes a large fountain and four pavilions, which are available to rent for events.

Exposition Transportation Building

The Exposition Transportation Building as seen in 2018
The Exposition Transportation Building, built in 1936 by the Lake City Union Railroad, was the primary entrance and exit point to the 1938 International Exposition for hundreds of thousands of attendees. Designed in an Art Deco style, the building also housed the administrative offices for the exposition in its 19-story clock tower. Following the exhibition, the station was intended to relieve congestion at Lake City Union Station in downtown Lake City; however, the Exposition Transportation Building was never used for this purpose as intercity passenger rail service in the Federal States plateaued in the early 1940s and dramatically decreased in the 1950s as expressways and motorways proliferated throughout the nation. Prospects for the building were significantly hampered by the construction of the Northwest Expressway in 1959, dividing the building from the rest of Exposition Gardens; however, following the removal of the Northwest Expressway in 2018, there is ongoing interest in renovating and reopening the building, albeit likely in a non-transportation-related function.

Lakeside Bank Coliseum

The Lakeside Bank Coliseum during a Lake City Centurions baseball game in 2006
The Lakeside Bank Coliseum opened in 1937 as a primary event space for the 1938 International Exposition. The Coliseum hosted two major Archantan sports throughout the exposition: baseball and Archantan (gridiron) football. The Lake City Blue Stockings relocated to the Coliseum for their 1937-1938 season; the team changed its name to the Lake City Centurions in honor of the "Century of Progress" theme. The Minnonigan Minutemen football team also plays in the Coliseum. Due to the field's size to accommodate both baseball and gridiron football games, the Coliseum is known as a very pitcher-friendly baseball stadium due to the large amount of foul territory. The Coliseum has been modernized several times since the exposition, most recently adding additional skyboxes in 2014. The Coliseum officially seats 47,000 for baseball (although many upper deck sections are closed off for most games) and 62,000 for gridiron football games, as additional temporary seating sections are routinely constructed for gridiron and exhibition soccer matches. Lakeside Bank, headquartered in downtown Lake City, purchased naming rights to the Coliseum in 2007 and renewed the naming rights contract for another ten years in 2017.

Axcess Arena

The Axcess Arena opened in 2016, replacing the Expo Gardens Arena, which replaced the exhibition's Stock Pavilion in 1974. Axcess Arena is the home of the Lake City Lancers basketball team and the Lake City Rivermen hockey team. The state-of-the-art arena seats up to 16,000 fans for hockey and over 18,000 fans for basketball, concerts, and other events. While the Axcess Arena contains no exhibit space, the building is connected to the Randall Stephens Convention Center and is often used for events hosted there.

Exposition Park Fieldhouse and Natatorium

As part of Lake City's failed bid for the 1916 Geolympiad, two structures were built: the Central Park Fieldhouse and the Central Park Natatorium. While the bid ultimately failed, the fieldhouse and natatorium (later renamed to "Exposition Park Fieldhouse/Natatorium" when the park itself changed names) remained and have been an important part of the Lake City Park District ever since. The two main gymnasiums of the fieldhouse were connected to the Randall Stephens Convention Center with the construction of Building 3 in 1994 and can be combined with other conference spaces as needed.

Exposition Park Conservatory

The Exposition Park Conservatory, looking southeast from the Waterson Avenue underpass at Kendall Street
One of the three remaining structures from the 1938 International Exposition, the Exposition Park Conservatory sits at 1055 N. Waterson Avenue in Exposition Gardens. Built and opened as the Crystal Gardens Ballroom, the impressive copper and glass Beaux Arts building was markedly different than the rest of the primarily Art Deco exhibition buildings. The building was used as an event space for foreign dignitaries during the exposition and showed off the latest technological advances in air conditioning. Following the close of the exposition, the Lake City Park District took ownership of the Crystal Gardens and created the Exposition Park Conservatory, the Park District's primary greenhouse. While the Conservatory is officially free and open to the public, donations are strongly recommended and the building itself is often rented out for weddings and other private events.

Lake City Zoo

The Lake City Zoological Gardens is the largest zoo in Minnonigan and dates back to 1894. A wide variety of animals from around the world are represented at the zoo, and the zoo is one of the largest free zoos in the Federal States. The zoo has been incrementally removing older zoo buildings and replacing them with more natural habitat spaces. The grounds of the zoo originally included areas east of Bridge Street, which were never developed; this area was physically divided from the rest of the zoo after construction of the Northwest Expressway in 1959. As part of the 2018 expressway removal initiative, the old Zoo Gardens Drive bridge over the Northwest Expressway was removed and replaced with an at-grade intersection with the reconstructed Bridge Street. The Lake City Zoo, in coordination with the Lake City Park District, converted the abandoned zoo land east of Bridge Street into the Apiary Creek Meadow, a restored prairie and wetland formed by daylighting the previously-buried Apiary Creek and replanting native grasses and plants. The meadow also includes a Wilderness Education Center, which was opened in coordination with Lake City Public Schools to teach students about native geography and wildlife prior to human development in Minnonigan.

Randall Stephens Convention Center

Randall Stephens Convention Center, Building 2
Exhibition Spaces
Building Space Approx. ft² Approx. m²
Building 1 Hall 110 69,400 6,450
Building 1 Hall 120 4,000 375
Building 1 Hall 130* 14,500 1,350
Building 1 Hall 131* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 132* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 133* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 134* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 135* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 136* 4,600 425
Building 1 Hall 137* 5,400 500
Building 1 Hall 139 47,500 4,400
Building 2 Hall 240* 107,000 9,950
Building 2 Hall 241* 63,500 5,900
Building 2 Hall 249 170,500 15,850
Building 2 Hall 250* 21,200 2,000
Building 2 Hall 251* 178,000 16,500
Building 2 Hall 252* 120,000 11,100
Building 2 Hall 259 319,200 29,600
Building 2 Hall 260* 4,500 420
Building 2 Hall 261* 4,500 420
Building 2 Hall 262* 4,500 420
Building 2 Hall 263* 5,200 480
Building 2 Hall 269 18,700 1,740
Building 3 Hall 370* 78,100 7,250
Building 3 Hall 371* 63,100 5,800
Exposition Park Fieldhouse^ Gym 2/Hall 372^ 16,000 1,500
Exposition Park Fieldhouse^ Gym 1/Hall 373^ 16,000 1,500
Building 3 Hall 379 173,200 16,050
Building 3 Hall 380 53,500 5,000
Lakeside Center Hall 490* 141,000 13,000
Lakeside Center Hall 491* 14,000 1,300
Lakeside Center Hall 492* 41,400 3,850
Lakeside Center Hall 499 191,400 18,150
Lakeside Center Lakeside Ballroom 155,300 14,400
Hotel Evans Hall 500* 58,500 5,450
Hotel Evans Hall 501* 7,200 675
Hotel Evans Hall 502* 3,500 325
Hotel Evans Hall 503* 7,200 675
Hotel Evans Hall 504* 3,500 325
Hotel Evans Hall 505* 7,200 675
Hotel Evans Hall 506* 3,500 325
Hotel Evans Hall 507* 7,200 675
Hotel Evans Hall 509 106,125 9,875
Halls shown with an asterisk can be combined into Halls shown in italics.
^ - Gymnasiums in the Exposition Park Fieldhouse cannot be used individually.
† - Includes additional space from removing the hallway between individual halls.

The Randall Stephens Convention Center straddles Exposition Boulevard and surrounds the Four Corners Fountain in the middle of Exposition Gardens. The convention center is one of the largest convention spaces in the Federal States, with over 120,000 square meters of event space available. The convention center routinely hosts large exhibitions including the annual Lake City Auto Show, itself an ongoing extension of the Transportation Showcase of the 1938 International Exposition. The center is named after Randall Stephens, long-serving Mayor of Lake City who served when the Expo Gardens Convention Center opened in 1974.

Lake City Exposition Authority

As Lake City faced significant population and business losses in the 1960s as many residents moved out to the suburbs, the Lake City Mayor Randall Stephens and the City Council of Lake City debated ways to reinvigorate declining areas of the city. Among the strategies employed was lobbying the state government to create the Lake City Exposition Authority, a new government agency ostensibly tasked with attracting new business expositions to Lake City, but also directly concerned with competing against the Village of Montrose’s Balmoral Parkway corridor of hotels near Lake City International Airport. The Exposition Authority is funded by a 0.5% tax on all sales from restaurants within Lake City and a 1% tax on hotel rooms “in Lake County within two miles of any commercial airport”, which was written to include the Balmoral Parkway corridor. While the revenues from the hotel tax far outweighed revenues generated from the Lake City restaurant tax, the City Council successfully argued that, since the restaurant tax covers a larger geographic area, a majority of the Exposition Authority’s board should be controlled by the City of Lake City.

Construction on the Expo Gardens Convention Center (now Building 1) and the Expo Gardens Arena began in 1972, with both buildings opening on October 15, 1974. An addition to the convention center opened in 1980, bringing the total available exposition space to nearly 27,000 square meters. In 1985, the Exposition Authority received approval to complete the massive Building 2, which required Lake City to vacate LeBeque Avenue south of Natoma Street. Building 2 opened in 1988, more than doubling the exhibition space in the convention center, which was renamed to the Randall Stephens Convention Center.

Building 3, which opened in 1994, added an additional 21,000 square meters of convention space, and also included the first segments of the SkyWalk. Building 4, officially the Lakeside Center, opened in 2005 with an additional 32,500 square meters of convention space and Parking Deck C. As a concession to win zoning board approval and to help ease neighborhood concerns about increased traffic, the SkyWalk was directly connected to the LCTA Expo Gardens ‘J’ Station. In 2015, the Exposition Authority purchased the Hotel Evans and opened the Hotel Evans Conference Center (Building 5) in the former hotel parking lot.

Coordinated with the 2018 expressway removal initiative, the Exposition Authority constructed the massive Parking Deck B, with direct access to and from westbound FS-24. The project also enlarged the underground Building 2 truck loading/parking areas. Concurrently the Exposition Authority built Parking Deck D, which includes park-and-ride facilities for the LCTA. As part of the initiative’s overall goal to reduce auto dependency in Lake City, these improvements were funded by a new 2% tax on rental car facilities serving the two airports.

Event Spaces

The Randall Stephens Convention Center features 36 individual exhibition halls, many of which can be combined to form larger event spaces as needed. Event spaces, referred to as Halls, are labeled with a three-digit number: the first digit is the number of the building; the second digit is the number of the larger event space; and the third digit is the individual space. Halls that end with "9" indicate a combined space (e.g., Hall 139 is the combined Halls 130-137). Individual room sizes range from 325 square meters to 29,600 square meters. The various parts of the convention center are all connected by the Expo Gardens SkyWalk, a climate-controlled network of elevated walkways that connect parking decks, LCTA 'J' stations, the Lake City Public Market, the Axcess Arena, and more to the four primary buildings of the convention center. This allows for a wide variety of event space and possible room layouts, a key part of the convention center's overall success.

Transportation

Public Transit

The Expo Gardens SkyWalk directly connects the Randall Stephens Convention Center to several LCTA 'J' rapid transit stations. To the west, the SkyWalk directly connects the Lakeside Center to the Expo Gardens station, which serves LCTA Yellow Line and LCTA Green Line trains; the LCTA Green Line directly serves Gunnison International Airport. To the east, the SkyWalk directly connects The Wilberding - Hotel Evans to the Trinity/Exposition station, which serves LCTA Brown Line and LCTA Purple Line trains. LCTA Orange Line trains -- which connect to the LCX Monorail at Dodge -- are also available at the Trinity/Exposition station.

Driving

The Randall Stephens Convention Center is located over the Exhibition Expressway (FS-24) tunnel through Exposition Gardens; FS-20 and FS-44 are also nearby. Three major parking decks (Deck B, Deck C, and Deck D) are connected to the SkyWalk, with a capacity of tens of thousands of cars. Decks C and D are also used for events at Axcess Arena and for Minnonigan Minutemen football games at the Lakeside Bank Coliseum. With the exception of Kendall Street, most streets within Exposition Gardens south of Natoma Street are generally closed to automobile traffic at all times.

Lodging

In 2015, the Lake City Exposition Authority purchased the Hotel Evans, a historic hotel located immediately adjacent to Exposition Gardens. The Hotel Evans dates back to 1937, when it opened to serve visitors to the 1938 International Exposition. The hotel closed for nine months and reopened as The Wilberding - Hotel Evans, a four-star hotel connected to the Randall Stephens Convention Center via the SkyWalk. The Hotel Evans renovation also included construction of the Hotel Evans Conference Center (Building 5) in the former surface parking lot of the hotel. The hotel offers 802 guest rooms including 22 suites, as well as a full business center, spa, and three restaurants.

Several smaller boutique hotels are located in the North Union Entertainment District, just west of Axcess Arena. Numerous additional hotels are located in downtown Lake City, a short 10-15 minute 'J' ride away from the convention center.