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Benjamin Spillman

Tourism officials' concern expands

26 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A $737 million plan to renovate and expand the Las Vegas Convention Center could be completed in 2012, two years later than projected.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will consider stretching out the construction period if it causes less disruption for trade shows at the center, which drew more than 6.3 million visitors in 2006 and generated more than $8.1 billion for the local economy.

But even if the time frame is expanded, construction could displace at least part of one of Las Vegas' biggest trade shows -- the 2011 ConExpo-ConAgg construction exhibition.

"It will be a huge challenge for us in 2011," said Pat Monroe, public relations manager for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, owner and producer of the show, which is expected to occupy 1.93 million square feet.

The show, held every three years, may be divided between the convention center and another Las Vegas venue to accommodate construction, Monroe said.

The discussion about stretching the construction schedule came when convention authority leaders consulted with a focus group that included managers of the biggest trade shows in Las Vegas.

More than 35 people attended a two-day meeting to review the design and construction schedule as well as the needs of conventions.

The group's input was part of the process of creating a schematic design for the renovation, assessing the costs and determining a schedule, said Jim Gans, senior vice president of operations for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The goal is to produce a general design for the project by April 1 and deliver a recommendation on the time frame by June 30, Gans said.

Ultimately, the plan is to increase the size of the convention center by 450,000 square feet, increase the number of meeting rooms and add a cohesive connection between the center's large halls, Gans said.

To minimize the impact on shows, construction could be done during off hours and existing space could be kept open until replacement space is ready for use, among other accommodations.

Planning around ongoing events is especially difficult in Las Vegas because with more than 3 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space, the convention center is not only the country's third largest, it is also one of the busiest.

"It is really a complex set of considerations about space and time," Gans said.

Chris Brown, executive vice president of conventions and business operations for the National Association of Broadcasters, said the challenge will be convincing people who rent exhibit booths that construction won't hurt foot traffic. The National Association of Broadcasters annual show in April draws more than 100,000 attendees.

"We are going to have nervous exhibitors," Brown said.

A smooth flow of foot traffic is one of the most important aspects of a good convention, Brown said. Exhibitors pay big money to rent space and don't want construction, blocked exits or anything else to prevent them from interacting with customers during events.

"The real danger is you have companies who panic over that," Brown said.

But he said a strong effort by authority workers to update convention center customers on details of the project should assuage most exhibitors' concerns.