The additional 60,000 square feet, once a manufacturing site for Honeywell Inc., the computer firm, is now vacant. The extra room will bring the expo center's total space to about 230,000 square feet, Safarowic said.
It will solidify the center's position as one of the largest sites in the area. It is exceeded only by the 382,000-square-foot Philadelphia Civic Center and the new 432,000-square-foot Convention Center. The Valley Forge Convention Center offers 140,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The sprawling, one-story expo center opened in January 1993 in the 800-acre Fort Washington Industrial Park, which fell upon hard times as businesses cut back, leaving 30 percent of the the park vacant when the center opened. The park, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Route 309, was built in the 1950s.
The expo center is in part of an 860,000-square-foot building. Honeywell, which sold the site to an investment group in 1986, still leases about one- third of the building from the current owners, Safarowic said.
He said the expansion of the expo center would require only cosmetic changes.
The work requires only a certificate of occupancy from the township, and that document will be issued soon after the owners submit floor plans of the site, according to township zoning officer Joe Benyo.
Safarowic said the expo center, owned by a group known as 1100 Virginia Associates, had also applied for a liquor license, which would permit it to move more into the catering and banquet business and sell liquor at shows.
The opening of the center has turned the area into a mini-boom town, say owners of local businesses. With 40 shows last year and more than 50 already scheduled for 1994, almost every weekend brings an influx of visitors, Safarowic said.
A nearby Holiday Inn is planning a face lift, in part because of the increased business the center has generated. General manager Richard Draus said the hotel was replacing furnishings in the dining room and lounge, resurfacing the parking lot, and adding new draperies to the guest rooms.
Patti Organ, who manages the Fort Washington Inn, formerly the Ramada Inn, said that her business had picked up on weekends and that the inn was now at about 90 percent occupancy.
"It's much busier," Organ said. "It was extremely quiet before the expo (center opened) and now there's a lot of people and traffic. I'm sure all the retailers in the area are happy.
"In the industrial park, things were really, really bad, so it's a beginning," she said.