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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Event Planner Steps Down

15 April 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Pat Christenson will not be involved in a proposed summer event planning institute, the Las Vegas Events president said in a statement Thursday that also apologized for any perceived conflicts of interest caused by his actions.

Christenson recently founded the Event Institute at Oglebay, a five-day course on special event management designed to instruct up to 60 professionals on topics such as staging rodeos and fireworks shows; securing corporate sponsors; merchandising; and nonprofit fund raising.

Though Christenson felt otherwise, that program seemingly could conflict with his duties at Las Vegas Events, a private nonprofit that stages some of the city's largest tourist draws, including the New Year's Eve fireworks show and the National Finals Rodeo. As a result, Christenson recently decided to abandon the institute altogether.

"Because of the perceived scrutiny his business had created, (Christenson) thought it was in the best interests of himself, Las Vegas Events and the board to divest himself fully from this venture," Bill McBeath, an MGM Mirage executive and Las Vegas Events board member, said Thursday. Christenson did not return calls placed to his office Thursday.

However, he released a written statement that confirmed his Wednesday decision to withdraw from any involvement with the institute.

"I apologize to the staff and members of the Board if this has caused any unnecessary distraction from our mission of successfully staging world-class events for Las Vegas," the letter read.

The president of the International Festivals & Events Association, a Boise, Idaho-based trade group that co-organized the institute, said Thursday he's uncertain what will become of the school given Christenson's decision.

"I don't think we would that quickly throw our arms up and say, `We aren't going to do it,' but I'll have to talk with Pat and decide where to go from here," said Steven Schmader, who had not talked with Christenson about his withdrawal.

"Pat's a great resource to have at the table. ... It would be too bad if he were not able to do it," Schmader said.

McBeath on Wednesday was named the new chairman of the Las Vegas Events board, replacing Boyd Gaming Corp. executive Steve Thompson, whose two-year term as chairman recently expired.

McBeath said Christenson's contract with Las Vegas Events prohibits him from seeking outside business opportunities without prior approval of the board chair. Both McBeath and Christenson said Thompson previously gave permission for Christenson to go ahead with the institute, a claim that was supported through a May 31, 2004, letter supplied to the Review-Journal on Thursday.

"The LVE Board has intended that your work be dedicated to the operations of LVE, however, you have indicated that you have hired someone to run the day-to-day operations of the school and that you will use vacation time during your visits to the school," Thompson wrote. "You have also indicated that the event school will in no way conflict with LVE and its mandate. Based on these understandings Las Vegas Events approves of your ownership of an event management school."

Because several members on Tuesday said they had no knowledge of Christenson's outside efforts, the board on Wednesday voted to amend his contract to require future outside employment efforts be approved by the full board, not just the chairman, McBeath said.

Speaking personally, McBeath added he believes Christenson's "sole and absolute focus should be Las Vegas."

"I think his compensation reflects how important a job he has, and I would be against him having future outside interests that could be perceived to potentially conflict with his role of directing the special event efforts for Las Vegas," McBeath said of Christenson.

Christenson on Tuesday downplayed his role at the institute, saying it would be run by a colleague in West Virginia.

"I really don't do a lot with the school other than pick the instructors, pick the curriculum," Christenson said.

The institute's Web site features several photos of Christenson and refers to him as the event's president and creator.

Set in a secluded mountaintop resort, the August institute would have charged attendees between $1,439 and $1,649 for five nights' lodging at Oglebay, a resort and conference center in Wheeling, W.Va. Those costs include daily meals and beverages, handout materials, resort activities and an $899 tuition fee.

To receive a diploma at the institute, students are asked to re-enroll for a second 19-hour curriculum scheduled for summer 2006. Should this year's rates hold through next year, a local attendee's total expenditures, including airfare, would total about $3,500 to $4,000 per diploma.