Dec 18

After a quarter-century, Infinite Energy Center continues to serve Gwinnett community

By: Curt Yeomans

Published: December 17, 2017

It may seem hard to imagine, but the Infinite Energy Center has been around for a quarter of a century — or for one-eighth of Gwinnett County’s existence if viewed within the larger context of the county’s upcoming bicentennial.

The Infinite Energy Center opened its doors Nov. 27, 1992, although not quite in the form people know today. Originally, it was just the Gwinnett County Convention Center, a project whose construction was funded by the special purpose local option sales tax approved by voters in 1988.

There was no arena in the beginning. No professional sports teams calling the location home. No corporate name. The grand ballroom didn’t even exist. It was just there to fill a need that county leaders saw in the community in the late 1980s, according to Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who was a county employee at the time.

“They believed Gwinnett County needed a facility that could comfortably host trade and convention activities and larger community events,” Nash said. “One of the stated objectives was to provide a space large enough for most high school graduations to be held indoors rather than outside. I believe the commissioners also saw the fine arts theater as an important cultural amenity for the community which would bring performances of all types to Gwinnett.”

The full facility is now made up of four major parts: the original convention center that is now called the Infinite Energy Forum, the 13,000-seat Infinite Energy Arena, the 708-seat Infinite Energy Theater and the Hudgens Center for Art and Learning.

The center also has 23 meeting rooms, a 21,600-square-foot grand ballroom and a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall

When it opened, the property took up 90 acres, but Explore Gwinnett officials said it now takes up 112 acres.

Much of what residents know today as the Infinite Energy Center came along in bits and pieces. The convention center came first. The Arena at Gwinnett Center — now called the Infinite Energy Arena — and the grand ballroom then opened in the early 2000s.

Each time the center expanded, it was because of a need and growing demand, Nash said.

“As Gwinnett grew, the spaces in the original Civic Center would not accommodate larger events comfortably, so the ballroom was added to address this issue,” she said. “Of course, it was designed to be configured multiple ways so that it can be bigger or smaller as the need may arise.

“The arena was added to address the need for a facility that could seat over 10,000 to handle large events, including concerts and graduations for the big classes that were graduating from Gwinnett schools, and to attract sports events to the county that needed a large facility like the arena.”

The arena is home to the East Coast Hockey League’s Atlanta Gladiators, the National Lacrosse League’s Georgia Swarm and the Legends Football League’s Atlanta Steam.

The Arena Football League Georgia Force previously played games at the arena, as well. Other events held over the years include JapanFests, chamber of commerce banquets and lunches, State of the County addresses, speeches by governors, lieutenant governors, U.S. senators and state legislators, numerous plays and art exhibits, and several different types of expos.

The 25th anniversary of the facility’s opening comes as officials prepare for its future growth. An expansion of convention space in the Infinite Energy Forum was included in the 2017 SPLOST that voters approved last year. Plans are also in place to build a full-service Marriott hotel that will connect to the arena and the convention center.

Gwinnett County tourism officials are also working with North American Properties on a mixed-use development that will be built on the Infinite Energy Center property and include an entertainment district.

“The Infinite Energy Center not only serves the community now, but it also generates many business opportunities and tourism dollars,” Nash said. “With the plans to almost double convention space, to add a headquarters hotel and to add privately funded residential, office and entertainment development, it is poised to become the place to be in Gwinnett.”