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Chris Jones

Furniture Showcase Opens in Las Vegas

26 July 2005

Ads touting the debut of the World Market Center furniture mart promised this week's inaugural Las Vegas Market would be "the start of something big."

If Monday's returns were any indicator, it was that and much more. And it could be finished much sooner than anticipated.

Approximately 53,000 furniture buyers and representatives of more than 1,200 exhibiting companies filed through the center's 1.3 million-square-foot tower in downtown Las Vegas, most getting their first look inside a projected $2 billion development nearly five years in the making.

Before many could leave a stifling-hot registration pavilion, a trio of World Market Center developers basked in the late-morning shade discussing their project's newly accelerated building schedule.

"Groundbreaking on Phase 3 is just eight months away," Jack Kashani, who founded World Market Center with partner Shawn Samson, said of the $415 million, 2 million-square-foot expansion. "We've been meeting with people who want (to lease) entire floors."

At a news conference a few hours later, Kashani dropped another bombshell when he said the project's backers hope to complete World Market Center in its entirety -- which means 10.7 million more square feet spread over seven new buildings -- "in the next seven years." It had been scheduled for completion in 2015. "We've built what the industry asked us to," Kashani said.

"And we'll continue to do it," chimed Ronald Wackrow, executive vice president with The Related Lodging Group, whose company is co-developing World Market Center.

Such confidence was rampant for a debut Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman called "a defining moment for Las Vegas."

Flanked by his requisite pair of feather-clad showgirls, Goodman added World Market Center's opening diversified the local economy overnight by complementing its world-renown casino, retail, dining and entertainment amenities.

As VIPs posed and congratulated one another, furniture buyers and exhibitors quietly engaged in their elaborate game of show and sell, just as they have at past furniture marts in other U.S. cities. Many said this market stood out from its predecessors, citing everything from its concentrated exhibitors to the excitement of doing business in a popular destination such as Las Vegas.

Gregory Waylock, owner of Fort Worth, Texas-based Bailey Street Trading Co., saw a steady stream of buyers at his 2,900-square-foot space on World Market Center's fourth floor. He, too, expects the Las Vegas Market to grow in stature in the short-term future.

"This is the biggest thing to happen to the furniture industry in at least 10 years," said Waylock, who added an industrywide buzz has surrounded Las Vegas since the latest major market in High Point, N.C., concluded in mid-April.

To capitalize on that anticipation, Bailey Street held back several of its latest products from the High Point show in order to debut them here.

"We just had a feeling Las Vegas would be a great place for a furniture market," Waylock said of the city's anticipated buyer presence. "We got here at 8:15 (a.m.) and we were writing orders by 8:30. If we could double our space, we would."

Arcadia, Wis.-based Ashley Furniture Industries brought nearly 400 salespeople to town this week. When space grew tight inside its 19,500-square-foot showroom, dozens of yellow-clad sales representatives lined the sixth-floor hallways awaiting a chance to get back in to show products to would-be customers.

Still, buyers interviewed Monday were largely pleased with their industry's newest showcase.

Eddie and Jill Dwinell drove to World Market Center to scope out products for Inside Ideas, a 24,000-square-foot furniture store they own in Farmington, N.M. Before lunch was served, they were inclined to abandon competing furniture showcases they previously attended in San Francisco and High Point.

"This will probably be it," Eddie Dwinell said of his preferred market. "There are more places to stay, places to eat. It's much better" in Las Vegas.

Nancy Willis, a furniture buyer with Tahlequah, Okla.-based Baker Furniture, also praised World Market Center's variety of products in a central location.

"I think there's more to offer here," said Willis, who previously favored a regional furniture market in Tupelo, Miss.

Monday's debut was not without kinks including typical new building maladies such as broken escalators and poor wireless Internet availability.

But traffic congestion many expected on nearby roadways never materialized as attendees largely made use of shuttle buses or parked in a temporary lot on the northeast corner of Bonneville Avenue and Grand Central Parkway.