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Chris Jones

Meeting Centers Moving Forward

2 May 2006

The future is coming into focus at Southern Nevada's two largest convention centers.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. will within 120 days break ground on a 1 million-square-foot expansion of the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

It will open in 2008 on the southeast corner of Sands Avenue and Koval Lane, a company executive said recently.

Separately, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority hopes to complete a 50 percent schematic design of the renovated Las Vegas Convention Center by July; designs for the entire project are expected by November, an authority executive said.

In the interim, focus groups will convene this month to sort out the appearance of the revamped convention venue at Paradise and Desert Inn roads.

"It will be up to them to say, 'Do we want the slats in the windows to look like that? Do we want the carpet to look like that?' " Chris Meyer, the convention authority's senior director of convention center sales, said of the focus group participants.

Meyer and Eric Bello, vice president of sales for Sands Expo, each addressed a luncheon at the Four Seasons.

The event, which featured dozens of current and potential Las Vegas trade show clients, was jointly hosted by the International Association for Exhibition Management, a Dallas-based trade group, and the Professional Convention Management Association, a similar organization based in Chicago.

The 3.2 million-square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center and 2.25 million-square-foot Sands Expo and the nearby meeting rooms at The Venetian were key components of a local successful trade show industry that generated $7.6 billion in visitor spending last year.

Bello said plans were recently filed with Clark County for an open-air pedestrian bridge that would link the planned expansion with the existing Sands Expo on the southwest corner of Koval and Sands.

Efforts to divide a patchwork of nearby parcels owned by Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts Ltd. have been hampered, Bello said, by "a bit of an ego battle" between Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson and Wynn Resorts boss Steve Wynn.

"He's still a thorn in our side," Bello said of Wynn.

Nevertheless, Bello said Las Vegas Sands is moving forward to add exhibit space to serve guests of its $1.8 billion Palazzo resort scheduled to open next year.

Reed Exhibitions' Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, or SHOT Show, which drew nearly 41,000 people to the Las Vegas Convention Center in February, will move into the enlarged Sands Expo in 2009, Bello said. Additional events will be announced soon.

With The Venetian and Palazzo, Las Vegas Sands will have more than 7,000 suites on site, 5,500 of which will be dedicated for convention and meeting guests midweek.

"We don't go away from our focus," said Bello, whose company's business model has always centered on conventions and meetings.

The authority's board in February approved plans for a $737 million renovation of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and Meyer said its clients are also expecting changes to come.

The 47-year-old building has been upgraded and expanded numerous times over the years, though supporters say the pending changes are necessary to keep the venue competitive with those in other cities.

Among other improvements, plans call for additional meeting rooms; an "iconic" facade; a dedicated general session ballroom; and an indoor walkway linking the North, Central and South halls.

Design work is now under way. Construction is expected to wrap five to six years from now.

Las Vegas' third major convention venue, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, opened its newest wing in January 2003. It was sold last year when MGM Mirage purchased Mandalay Resort Group, and the new owner has since focused on improving business within the existing space.

Meeting Centers Moving Forward is republished from