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Sands plans new center

10 April 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Owners of The Venetian and Palazzo resorts plan to open a new convention center that would be among the country's largest in early 2010, according to an official at Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Brad Stone, executive vice president of Las Vegas Sands Corp., told investors in February the company will spend about $680 million to replace the Sands Expo and Convention Center, the 1.2 million-square-foot home to the leading shows for the footwear, consumer electronics and pornography industries, among others.

The new center at the intersection of Koval Lane and Sands Avenue would be an upgrade from the existing center, opened in 1990, and give Las Vegas Sands room to develop as many as 7,000 new hotel rooms on one of the priciest pieces of real estate in the city.

Company officials stop short of promising the new center will open in 2010. But they have filed plans for the venue with Clark County, and a Las Vegas Sands spokesman said the company stands by Stone's statements in February.

"It gives us superior space," Stone said, according to the transcript of a Feb. 11 investor conference at The Venetian. "We do well with the Sands -- current Sands Expo, but this really adds high quality ... things that are important to our customer."

According to the transcript and plans on file with Clark County, the new center would have about 1.2 million square feet of exhibition space, 36-foot-high ceilings, about 1,800 parking spaces and moving sidewalks connecting it to the Palazzo and The Venetian hotel-casinos.

The land for the center is surrounded on three sides by land owned by Wynn Resorts Ltd. that is now parking for Wynn Las Vegas employees.

Stone told the investors in February that Las Vegas Sands has an agreement with Wynn Resorts and Clark County that would allow bridges and sidewalks to access the center.

The bridges and moving sidewalks would be indoors and above street level, Stone said.

"The idea, exactly, is not to necessarily have foot traffic crossing at grade into that site," he said.

The new Sands would also likely be an improvement on the current Sands Expo and Convention Center, parts of which are below ground, drab and have drawn complaints about difficult access from show managers.

Chuck Schwartz, president and chairman of ConvExx, a Las Vegas trade show producer, said it can take longer to move freight in and out of the current center than it does at the Las Vegas or Mandalay Bay convention centers.

"Some shows are really challenged, and I'm sure have extra costs because of it," Schwartz said.

He added, however, that the Sands Expo and Convention Center is one of the most desirable locations in Las Vegas and the addition of the $1.9 billion Palazzo in January makes it even more attractive.

"The existing building is not what I would call a five-star center," he said, adding a new center would be a better complement to Palazzo and The Venetian. "It is a five-star hotel with a three-star (convention center)."

Diane Stone, chief operating officer of the World Shoe Association show, an event that attracts more than 30,000 people to the Sands Expo and Convention Center, and Mandalay Bay, said a new Sands would make it easier to upgrade exhibits.

She said ceilings on the lower level of the existing Sands are too low to accommodate some exhibits. A new Sands convention center would correct the issues, she said.

"We've been anticipating this for quite awhile," she said. "We are going to be really excited to see them do this."

The proposed convention center would be one of several upgrades in Las Vegas, which already hosts 45 of America's top 200 trade shows, more than the combined total of Orlando, Fla., and Chicago, the next two cities on the list.

The existing Sands Expo and Convention Center hosts three of the top 10 events in the country.

But competition for events continues to intensify as conventions become a larger part of the local economy. In 2006 convention visitors spent about $8.2 billion during Las Vegas shows. That's more than the $6.7 billion gamblers lost to casinos on the Strip that year.

Boyd Gaming is planning to add about 650,000 square feet of convention space in 2009 with the completion of its Echelon resort. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is embarking on an $890 million upgrade to the Las Vegas Convention Center that should be complete in 2011.

Las Vegas Sands officials see the new center as an opportunity to generate more business at the already bustling intersection of Sands Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.

Once complete, Las Vegas Sands officials would have the option of building more hotel rooms on the site of the old Sands convention center.

Stone said the new center would give Sands "the ability to recapture 20 -- over 20 -- acres of land right on the Las Vegas Strip, adjacent to The Venetian and Palazzo complex."