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Benjamin Spillman

Winter Las Vegas trade market: Market keeps on growing

31 January 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The builders of the World Market Center in downtown Las Vegas on Monday announced two more steps toward completing the $3 billion furniture trade center.

The steel frame of the third phase of the eight-building project started rising Tuesday and construction on the fourth building will begin by the end of the year.

The announcements about the future of the project came during the first trade event for Building B of the center, a 16-story, $345 million structure.

The event, called the Winter Las Vegas Trade Market, is expected to surpass the attendance record of 60,000 people set during the World Market Center's inaugural event in July 2005.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman welcomed the construction news, saying that Southern Nevada would benefit by gaining a foothold in the growing furniture and household furniture industry.

"We learned a lesson on 9-11 that we could not just be a one-horse town," said Goodman, referring to the downturn in Las Vegas tourism following attacks by terrorists on New York City and Washington, D.C. "We need to have different businesses in our community."

Since the World Market Center opened, the owners have met or exceeded the pace they set for their plan to complete the center by the end of 2013.

If they succeed, the World Market Center could shift the nation's center of furniture trading west from High Point, N.C.

The builders are betting furniture buyers and sellers would rather do business in Las Vegas than North Carolina. They are hopeful Southern Nevada's access to markets on the West Coast and in Asia will tip the balance.

Jack Kashari, managing partner of the World Market Center, said he would do "whatever it takes to make a better and larger market."

Kashari said the Las Vegas Valley's 130,000 existing hotel rooms plus plans for tens of thousands more will help the market grow.

Attendees gave high marks to the current market, which opened Monday and runs through Friday.

They liked the sleek, modernistic buildings, the diversity of buyers and sellers and that it is located in Las Vegas.

But there were also complaints about long lines at the elevators for Building B and difficulty getting information about the event.

Raman Kapoor, a furniture buyer from New Delhi, said he had difficulty getting directions to the World Market Center at 495 S. Grand Central Parkway.

"I'm a little disappointed," Kapoor said. "It is not easy to get the information on where it is."

Kapoor said he recently visited a market in Germany, where he easily found information on that market in the airport and at his hotel.

Not so with Las Vegas.

"I had to call back to India to find out where the fair was," he said of the event. "That was quite a job."

Once he got to the market, however, Kapoor said, he was impressed by the showrooms and the organization of the event.

Frances Alanso, a buyer and seller from Tustin, Calif., said the Las Vegas market was attracting quality traffic.

"I think Las Vegas will be a very high-end market," Alanso said.

Even with the housing market losing much of the steam that helps to propel furniture buying, Alanso said savvy sellers could capitalize.

"People are just wanting to spruce up their house because they want to stay in it longer," she said.

Judith Ets-Honkin, marketing director for a furniture seller based in San Rafael, Calif., said the Las Vegas market is much easier to reach from the West Coast than North Carolina.

"To go to High Point from California takes a full day," she said, describing a trip that requires a flight to Greensboro, N.C., and a drive to High Point.

Ets-honkin also said the buying traffic at Las Vegas prompted her company to leave a market in San Francisco to concentrate on the Nevada and North Carolina shows.

Space in the Las Vegas venue rents for an average of $30 per square foot, according to the World Market Center, meaning a 6,500-square-foot showroom could cost $195,000 annually.

When Building C is complete it will add 2.1 million square feet of space with a construction cost of $540 million.

About one-third of the space is already leased, according to center officials.

Building D, with a construction cost of $450 million, will add 1.5 million square feet of space.

But the Las Vegas center still lags behind High Point, which has roots dating back to the 19th century.

That market already has 12 million square feet of space and operators have upgraded transportation and technology for the center, which has 188 buildings.

But Shawn Samson, managing partner in the World Market Center, said the existing structures already greatly exceed the 750,000-square-foot retail furniture center originally envisioned for the site.

"We had no idea it would take the kind of dimension it has now," Samson said.