Chattanooga Convention Center Executive Director Mike Shuford said 2012 was down a little, but 2013 is looking up.
He told the Hamilton Place Rotary Club that 35 conventions were hosted by the center last year, and 40 are on the books this year - with the possibility of adding a couple more.
Mr. Shuford, who has been at the center for 29 years since before it opened, said there were 648 event days last year and 795 set this year.
He said Chattanooga has the smallest convention center of the state's four largest cities, but he said it is the only one that is all on one level.
Nashville is spending between $650 million and $700 million for a giant center that will put it in direct competition with Atlanta, Chicago and other metropolitan areas.
The Nashville center will have 448,000 square feet of rentable space, while Chattanooga has 142,160. Knoxville is at 250,000 and Memphis at 350,000.
Mr. Shuford said the deficit at the Chattanooga center is about $300,000 per year, but it's expected to be $4.8 million in Nashville. It's $1.5 million in Knoxville and $2 million in Memphis.
The speaker said the local center, which was expanded in 2003, fills up 40,000 hotel rooms a year. He said the economic impact last year was $38 million.
Mr. Shuford said the local facility features natural lighting, which he said is more cheerful for convention goers and saves on utility bills. He said rainwater from the lengthy roof goes into a cistern that is used by the city to water downtown plantings.
The center has a recycling program and gives its left-over food to the Food Bank, he said.
Mr. Shuford said the center operates its own food service, which helps in control of costs and quality.