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Chris Jones

Face-lift Receives Official Approval

15 February 2006

The Las Vegas Convention Center's long-awaited face-lift will become a reality after Tuesday's unanimous approval of a proposed $737 million upgrade.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns and operates the city's oldest and largest trade show venue, has for more than a year studied potential changes to the 3.2 million-square-foot building.

Following a 65-minute presentation by President Rossi Ralenkotter and a quartet of supporting experts, the authority's board wasted little time in supporting sweeping changes for the 47-year-old center.

Over the next five to six years, expansion plans call for a new facade and expanded lobby; multiple meeting rooms near the South Hall; and a 105,000-square-foot general session ballroom overlooking Paradise Road near Convention Center Drive.

An "iconic" exterior is proposed, as is extensive use of windows to better remind visiting conventioneers that they're doing business in the shadows of the famed Strip.

Work could begin late this year. Nine separate projects will be built in phases to minimize disruptions to upcoming trade shows.

"These improvements are appropriate," said board member and Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins.

The project was approved 13-0 with almost no discussion. A 14th board member, Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, attended the early portions of Tuesday's meeting but was excused prior to the vote.

"This enhancement program is to allow us to remain competitive in a highly competitive landscape," Ralenkotter said of the changes, which are designed to fend off challenges posed by other U.S. trade show markets.

"We're going to ... make this the number one convention facility in the world," he added.

Construction will be financed using up to $680 million in new bond debt and $57 million in cash reserves, said authority finance director Brenda Siddall.

Debt would be repaid primarily through revenue generated by a projected rise in citywide room tax collections, as well as increased lease rates and parking fees.

Over 30 years, that bond debt equates to approximately $1.4 billion.

Nevertheless, the authority said the expansion would produce $6.5 billion in incremental revenue over that span, resulting in a benefit-to-cost ratio of nearly 4 1/2-to-1.

"Conventioneers that utilize this facility spend a lot more money outside these four walls than they do inside," said Applied Analysis principal Jeremy Aguero, who discussed the enhancement's financial ramifications.

"The benefits will come back to the (authority) and community over 30 years," he also said.

Last year, local convention attendees spent more than $7.6 billion on nongaming goods and services. That total includes events at the Las Vegas Convention Center and elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley.

Sheriff Bill Young and Deputy Chief Bill Kohlar of the Clark County Fire Department each endorsed a planned fire/police station at the corner of Sierra Vista Drive and Swenson Street.

The station would benefit the center, Strip corridor and nearby neighborhoods, both men said. An onsite police presence could be a selling point when marketing the center to trade show producers, Young added.

In other business Tuesday:

Legal counsel Luke Puschnig informed board members U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks was scheduled Tuesday to consider a motion for summary judgment requested by co-plaintiffs R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The parties are engaged in a legal dispute with California businesswoman Dorothy Tovar over her alleged trademark infringement of the popular "What happens here, stays here" advertising campaign. Details of Hicks' actions were not available late Tuesday afternoon.

Board members unanimously approved a $75,000 grant for Clark County Fair and Rodeo, which annually stages its namesake event in Logandale.

A similar request was postponed last month when board member Kara Kelley expressed concern over discrepancies an outside audit recently discovered in CCFR's bookkeeping practices. Executive Director Todd Robison said those issues have been resolved, and Kelley led a unanimous motion to reward the grant Tuesday.