Infinity Convention Centre back in business with galactic gala and Ottawa Celebrity Sports Dinner

South-end facility to host larger events as proof of vaccination against COVID-19 becomes required
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Infinity Convention Centre during its ICC Cares Gala held in October 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Infinity Convention Centre is looking to restore Ottawa’s gala scene to its former glory by throwing a grand reopening bash that promises to be out of this world for 250 of its favourite friends and clients.

It will then turn around and welcome another crowd twice as large for the 23rd Annual Ottawa Celebrity Sports Dinner, featuring golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

As of this Wednesday, Ontario residents will have to show proof of double vaccination, along with a piece of government ID, to get into certain places including the Infinity Convention Centre. 

Lee Knowles, vice-president of operations for ICC, believes the new protocols will make things much easier for business owners.

“I personally think this is great because it’s going to keep the venues open and it takes the onus off of us, as the operators, by making it a provincial government mandate,” she said.

The convention centre is somewhat of a hidden gem, tucked away just off Hunt Club Road near the Ottawa airport.

The 20,000-square-foot facility has become one of the city’s go-to venues for social and corporate events since it first opened in October 2016. It boasts custom-made crystal chandeliers, Italian marble flooring in the lobby, a 1,200-person ballroom and nearly $1 million worth of audio-visual equipment.

In 2019, ICC hosted more than 600 events. Memorable fundraisers have included Kaleidoscope of Hope, the Ottawa Children’s Gala, the Ottawa Celebrity Sports Dinner and the Royal Ottawa Foundation’s Inspiration Awards.

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Ben Mulroney hosted the Royal Ottawa Foundation's Inspiration Awards at Infinity Convention Centre on March 6, 2020, only 10 days before the facility shut its doors due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, who lost his teenaged son to suicide in 2011, is enthusiastically greeted as he enters the Infinity Convention Centre ballroom during the Kaleidoscope of Hope gala in February 2020 in support of youth mental health causes. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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The Ottawa Children's Gala, which raises funds for programs and services at CHEO that keep children safe from injury, filled Infinity Convention Centre with decorative magic in February 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

When the facility closed on March 16, 2020, it had no idea at the time that nearly 17 months would pass before it would be welcoming guests through its doors again. In early August 2021, it resumed operations by hosting nearly 30 postponed prom parties.

“We got our feet wet working in the new COVID environment,” Knowles said, adding that bookings are now picking up for weddings and other events.

If the convention centre felt it needed an excuse to throw a grand reopening bash, it found one: its five-year anniversary in October.

“I think we had to take that initial step and say, ‘We’re ready, we’re open and we can do these events safely,'” said ICC co-owner Anu Sohal. “I think we had to set an example. We decided this was the time to do it. We’ve been here for five years. We committed to doing it and, here we are, a couple of weeks away.”

The reopening party set for Friday, Oct. 1 will see Avant Garde Designs owner Sharon Bosley House and Carole Saad, owner of Chic + Swell Event Designers, collaborate on a galactic-inspired evening that will capture the spirit of Dua Lipa’s hit song Levitating. Think moon and starlight, pixie dust glitter and dancing.

Come Nov. 3, the ICC will host the Soloway JCC’s popular Ottawa Celebrity Sports Dinner with Nicklaus. The sold-out event is being capped at 500 people, instead of its usual 800, in keeping with capacity restrictions.

Event chair Stuart Ages, vice-president at Paramount Properties, said he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the dinner can go ahead as planned.

“There may have to be adjustments made,” he said of the pandemic’s continued unpredictability.  

“Right now, I’m trying to be as positive as I was in July and August, and really hoping for an amazing event on Nov. 3. The feedback I’m getting from sponsors and guests is that everyone is very excited.”

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Detroit Lions legend Barry Sanders is flanked by Ottawa Celebrity Sports Dinner chair Stuart Ages, left, and his brother, Ken Ages, also with Paramount Properties, at the dinner held at the Infinity Convention Centre in October 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The facility is also bringing back its annual ICC Cares Gala on Nov. 12. It will be in support of the Montfort Hospital Foundation this year.

Health and safety measures are being implemented with all events held at ICC, said Knowles, while adding that the facility has upgraded its HVAC systems to allow for improved ventilation and air circulation. 

ICC is also back with a new team that consists of director of operations Sunny Chopra; executive chef Jason Peters; Guill Fernandes, manager of food and beverage; and audio-visual manager Mark MacDonald. Sharron Mulvey remains director of sales.

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Infinity Convention Centre has hired, from left, Guill Fernandes, manager of food and beverage, executive chef Jason Peters, audio and visual manager Mark MacDonald and director of operations Sunny Chopra, seen in the front lobby on Sept. 16. Photo by Caroline Phillips

ICC is owned by the Sohal and Aggarwal families. They’re also business partners in five hotels in Ottawa, but, fortunately for them, had a major contract with the government of Nunavut during the pandemic to lodge and feed individuals in mandatory quarantine for 14 days before they were allowed to travel to the northern territory.

As for ICC, it had to lay off its core staff of 68 when the pandemic scuttled its long list of events. Sohal remembers how hard it was to drive by the building and see it all alone, with its lights off and the parking lot empty. 

“It was gut-wrenching,” said Sohal, who, with her business partners, knew the risks involved when they started their businesses. “We told ourselves we were going to fight through this with all the vigour that we could. We did. We survived.”

Sohul said she’s excited to welcome larger crowds back into Infinity Convention Centre again.

“It’s about bringing that energy back into the building, because it's the people that give it life.”

caroline@obj.ca