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Jennifer Robison

Remodelings to serve as tests for center

11 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has signed off on a small agreement that could have big implications for the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The authority's board approved on Tuesday a $3.5 million contract for the remodeling of two meeting rooms and two restrooms that would serve as laboratories for designs and materials the authority will consider using in its $737 million overhaul of the convention center.

The project will enable the authority to tinker with building techniques before a renovation of the entire center, engineering consultant Michael Musgrave said in a presentation to the board.

Focus groups will provide opinions on the aesthetic and technological elements in the refashioned rooms. Participants' comments will help project planners pinpoint components essential to keeping existing business and luring new conventions.

Adam Schaffer, publisher of Tradeshow Week, called the authority's test-marketing strategy "very progressive."

"(Testing) is something that's not done that often in the industry, because it takes resources," Schaffer said. "But Las Vegas is a unique trade-show city, so (testing is) smart for the city and it's smart for the industry. It's not a waste of money. It's extremely wise. If you're making a major investment, you want it to work."

Planned for the early construction project inside the convention center's North Hall are lighting controls that Musgrave said would provide energy efficiency and cost savings while giving presenters more optical choices. Also on tap are plug-and-play access to data resources and audio-visual networks, and picture rails for hanging displays. Acoustical panels will dampen sounds from the convention center's heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems.

Musgrave said the rooms would also receive "an improvement in their visual environment."

"They'll be more businesslike," he said. "There will be more of an upscale feel to the rooms themselves."

Schaffer said modernizing meeting rooms at the convention center would "allow it to really be a first-class meeting experience, and that's going to get people's attention."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said during Musgrave's presentation that the convention center's remodeling is key to expanding Southern Nevada's competitiveness in the meetings industry.

During his trip to Europe last week to promote the National Basketball Association's All-Star 2007 in February at the Thomas & Mack Center, Goodman said, he met with businesspeople who expressed high expectations of the meeting centers and hotels that surround the resort corridor in Las Vegas.

"(Visitors) expect the best of everything," Goodman said. "Are we still on track to have the greatest convention center?"

"Yes, we are," Musgrave answered.

Martin-Harris Construction of Las Vegas will build out the experimental meeting rooms and bathrooms.

Building is scheduled to begin Nov. 6, with completion planned for Dec. 22. Authority officials plan to conduct focus groups in January.

At 3.2 million square feet, the Las Vegas Convention Center is America's third-largest meeting center, after McCormick Place in Chicago and the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Preliminary plans for upgrading the center include a new 105,000-square-foot general-session ballroom for keynote addresses and 150,000 square feet of added or remodeled meeting rooms in the South Hall. In addition, a 500,000-square-foot indoor lobby would connect the North, Central and South halls.

Schaffer said the extra meeting rooms are critical to drawing new business to the center.

Trade groups are piling on seminars and continuing-education programs during conventions to bolster the content of their shows, Schaffer said. The added breakout sessions or classes are translating into a demand for convention centers with meeting rooms. Given the Las Vegas Convention Center's age -- it opened in 1959, long before seminars were de rigueur in the trade-show sector -- its share of meeting space is likely below today's industry average, Schaffer said.

"The ability to provide meeting spaces will be a definite value in terms of selling the whole building," Schaffer said. "Show organizers want to know their attendees are having a great experience on the show floor, but they also want them participating in educational sessions. (Adding rooms) is a winning situation for show managers, which then translates into a winning situation for the building."

Hugh Sinnock, the Las Vegas-based regional operations director for Reed Exhibitions, said he doesn't think upgraded meeting rooms are vital to selling the convention center as a meeting base because Las Vegas is already popular among conventioneers for its high-end restaurants, abundant shows and 135,000-room hotel portfolio.

"But the things they're talking about adding will be valuable to anyone conducting meetings," Sinnock said. "The conference portion of a trade show is essential, and anything that makes it easier for a show manager or association to create a more productive environment is going to be well-received."

Sinnock said he's participated in two convention-center focus groups that helped authority officials evaluate client needs. He plans to participate in focus groups targeting the retrofitted meeting rooms as well. Reed will produce nine shows in Las Vegas throughout 2006, four of which will happen at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"It's valuable to us to participate," Sinnock said. "In most of these focus groups, the bigger customers are all represented. I want to hear what others are saying and voice (Reed's) opinions."

Construction on the convention center's overall renovation will start in 2007 and could last through 2011.