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Chris Jones

A Vision of Things to Come

9 June 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Less than a week before his attraction's $17 million face-lift makes its public debut, the Fremont Street Experience's new boss told local tourism officials Tuesday his new "Viva Vision" canopy will soon give visitors and locals new cause to venture into downtown Las Vegas.

"For people who have never been to Fremont Street or downtown, we're giving them a good reason to come," Joe Schillaci, who was named Fremont Street Experience president and chief executive officer in December, told members of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board.

"And even if you've seen the Fremont Street Experience in the past, this is going to be a new, strong and compelling reason to come back down and revisit us."

Schillaci's optimism is based on Monday's scheduled unveiling of his attraction's new light-emitting diode display, which is said to project television-quality images about 900 times clearer than the nearly 10-year-old incandescent light display the overhead attraction used in the past.

Over the past few months, more than 2 million incandescent bulbs were replaced with 12.5 million LED lamps, which Schillaci said are both less expensive to operate and easier to maintain than the attraction's past system. Most importantly, he said its new shows will offer a "wow factor" unlike anything else.

"We have, fundamentally, a very good product," Schillaci said of the four-block-long canopy that's covered the downtown tourist corridor since late 1995. "And I think it's about to get better with the investment that we're making.

"We're not the Strip; we're not a locals casino operation. ... When you come down to Fremont Street, you'll get a very wonderful experience that's unique to anyplace else in the world."

The new canopy, dubbed "Viva Vision," will open Monday evening with the screening of two new shows, an outer-space journey called "Area 51" and the undersea-themed "The Drop." Guests will then look up to watch the live debut of "The Casino," a new Fox television series filmed largely at the Golden Nugget.

A third six-minute show will premiere in early July, followed by a fourth later this year. Coupled with new ownership at several nearby casinos, Schillaci hopes the Experience will give visitors a "vintage Vegas" experience coupled with modern high technology.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he's looking forward to the attraction's debut, which he believes will soon improve upon downtown's reported 16.8 million person visitor count last year.

Also, R&R Partners Executive Vice President Rob Dondero said a new media campaign will soon hit airwaves and print publications in Las Vegas and nearby cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego.

In other business Tuesday, the convention authority board:

. Listened to a protest from representatives of three community organizations whose members are upset by the authority's racy "What happens here, stays here" ad campaign and Las Vegas' widespread promotion and acceptance of adult-oriented businesses.

Michael Wixom, founder of Main Street Billboard Committee, and Cristi Bulloch of the Nevada Association of American Mothers used the meeting's public comment period to chastise the board for its support of advertising content they claim is inappropriate for children. Their messages were supported by a letter from DJ Stutz, president of the state parent-teacher association who Bulloch said was too ill to attend Tuesday's meeting.

"(The `What happens here, stays here') slogan and the message behind it tend to undermine the efforts we've made to diversify our economy," Wixom said. "The unwritten message is that standards and business integrity are different here."

Bulloch added the spots are "full of innuendo" and suggest this city's residents have low moral standards.

Board members did not comment on the criticism Tuesday but have in the past defended the "Vegas Stories" ad campaign as an effective marketing tool for promoting leisure travel in the area.

Mary Ann Mele, president of R&R Partners, which produced the controversial campaign, said an independent poll commissioned earlier this year showed the ads are not discouraging people from traveling to Las Vegas for business or leisure. She also said business leaders are savvy enough to tell the difference between ads encouraging tourism with the many amenities this area offers their companies.

. Presented outgoing President and Chief Executive Officer Manny Cortez a plaque honoring his nearly 36 years of service to the authority and the Southern Nevada community.

Henderson Mayor and Board Chairman Jim Gibson read a long list of Cortez's career achievements at what was the executive's final board meeting as convention authority boss. Several members of Cortez's family were also in attendance to mark the occasion.

Cortez plans to retire from the authority effective July 2.

. Voted 6-0 in favor of naming Hard Rock Hotel President Kevin Kelley as a new board member nominated by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

Boyd Gaming Corp. President Don Snyder's term was extended for two years, though Snyder is unlikely to complete that tenure given his plans to retire from Boyd in March. Snyder was nominated by the Nevada Resort Association.