By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – State officials announced this week they will transition the Colorado Convention Center away from an alternative care site by March 25. The move will allow the facility to return to its regular purpose, but conventions will not likely come back in large numbers until the second half of the year except for a few exceptions.

(credit: CBS)

“Denver is really one of the top convention destinations in the country,” said Richard Scharf, CEO of Visit Denver.

READ MORE: 'An Insult To Hunters Who Follow The Rules': Iniki Kapu Banned From Colorado, Most Of U.S., After Poaching Spree

Scharf says the loss of business from canceled conventions in 2020 totaled $800 million in economic impact. Visit Denver forecasted 450,000 people would have visited last year, generating all that tourism money. He says Denver attracts a variety of visitors including leisure travel, business trips and meetings like conventions. He says there is pent-up demand in those first two categories, and he expects business travel should return to 90 percent of its pre-pandemic level by the end of 2020.

“We feel that we are and can be one of the safest industries to happen right now,” he told CBS4 on a video conference call.

Colorado Crossroads is a girls junior USA Volleyball qualifier event and was one of the last events in town last year before the shutdown as COVID-19 spread across the state and country. The event will be back this year but it is scheduled for May instead of March. The Great American Beer Festival had to go virtual in 2020, and their organizers hope that by the fall they can return in-person this year.

(credit: CBS)

The combination of government regulations as well as industry standards among businesses and organizations should allow for strict safety protocols to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

READ MORE: 'They Left Her For Dead': 14 Year Old & 18 Year Old Charged With Murder Of Pamela Cabriales On Colfax

“I think the meeting industry has always ebbed and flowed with the times, with the economy,” he said on Thursday.

While there will not be much business in the first half of 2021, conventions should pick up by the end of the year. Attendance will also be smaller than what some of the same events brought in the past. Groups have explained they will plan for a lower turnout in person and use a hybrid model to allow other registered participants to connect virtually.

Visit Denver and the convention industry is focused on keeping the business already on the books, the interest in the Mile High City packed their schedules for 2021, 2022, and 2023. The opportunity for new business is focused on 2024 and 2025, keeping in mind that some organizations have already committed to conferences in town into 2034.

“I think every city is going to be grappling with their product and trying to get that product back up to a stand for the residents and the visitors,” Scharf said.

Conventions will not look the same anytime soon and the Denver they visit won’t be the experience they imagined when they committed to coming here before the pandemic. But Scharf says downtown has been resilient and will be ready for large groups again. He also expects while some industries may not be financially able to host conferences immediately, others have thrived in this economy and will want to convene, like the biotech and clean energy sectors.

MORE NEWS: 'Help Me!': Snowmobiler Counts Blessings As Stranger Finds Him Buried

The Colorado Convention Center expansion project will start work in June, adding an 80,000 square feet ballroom on top of the facility with an expanded view of the mountains. It will be complete in 2023.

Shawn Chitnis