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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Convention Centre Plans Taking Shape

8 September 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Construction is still several months away, but new details of a proposed $400 million upgrade of the Las Vegas Convention Center are gradually taking shape, officials said Wednesday.

The nation's third-largest convention venue is owned and operated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a public agency that uses room tax revenue to promote Southern Nevada's leisure and business industries to travelers around the globe.

Authority President Rossi Ralenkotter made public in January his desire to renovate the 46-year-old center, a change he believes is vital to ensuring that Las Vegas remains popular "for the next five, 10, 25 years -- even for the next 100 years," Ralenkotter said earlier this year.

His board of directors agreed, and in March it approved plans to spend as much as $400 million to modernize the center over the next several years.

Before the first jackhammer breaks ground, however, authority leaders must shore up what's actually in store for the popular convention hall. To get those answers, they've looked to existing clients such as show managers, convention organizers and meeting planners -- as well as other industry insiders who don't do business there.

"We want to look at our facility through our clients' eyes, through our customers' eyes," said Michael Musgrave, a consultant with the Las Vegas office of MWH Global. "We're right on the cusp of defining what we're going to do, and how we're going to do it."

Musgrave's company was hired in June to form a program management team along with authority staffers and HNTB Architecture.

In August, the team conducted six focus group meetings with representatives of more than 60 current or potential clients, including the International Consumer Electronics Show and the ConExpo-ConAgg construction trade show.

The findings from those sessions will be presented at Tuesday's board meeting, but Musgrave and Chris Meyer, the authority's director of convention center sales, said Wednesday the results were on par with past feedback on the venue's strengths and weaknesses.

The center greatly needs more meeting rooms and general session space. For example, the center has been unable to accommodate large medical associations because its 144 meeting rooms are well below industry norms for a venue of its size, Meyer said.

Musgrave said most elements of the nearly 2 million-square-foot venue will be reviewed, including its architecture, food service capabilities, technological infrastructure and ability to meet broad cultural needs of an expanding international audience.

The program management team has almost completed a full evaluation of the center, Musgrave said. By the end of the year, it will present to the board a detailed construction and financing schedule, including which tasks customers believe should be addressed first.

"I've got to balance construction efficiency with making sure we don't unreasonably interrupt the existing customers here," Musgrave said, adding outside issues -- including forthcoming rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast -- could affect construction material and manpower availability, as well as their costs.

Work on the center could begin in the second quarter of 2006, though much must still be determined. Meyer said upcoming plans will also be reviewed by clients all the way through construction.

"After we're through with all of the enhancements, I want my clients to say, 'Wow. Have you seen the Las Vegas Convention Center?' " Meyer said. "That will be a validation for me."