|By Benjamin Spillman, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 3, 2008 --Steve Wynn, the casino developer credited with changing the way people experience gambling resorts, says he ready to do the same for another pillar of the Las Vegas economy -- trade shows and conventions.
Wynn, chairman and chief executive officer of Wynn Resorts Ltd., told investors that he will build a lush and glamorous convention hotel on what is now a golf course behind Wynn Las Vegas.
Wynn didn't say how much he plans to spend on the project, but said he intends to build two hotel towers with a combined 5,200 rooms and a convention center with as much as 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space.
The convention center would be among the country's largest. Wynn promised elaborate features such as underground trams to take guests to the Las Vegas Convention Center and a lake with fountains similar to those at Bellagio, the $1.6 billion resort Wynn opened in 1998 when he led Mirage Resorts.
"The layout of our property lends itself to such a beautiful arrangement," Wynn said Thursday during a conference call to report first-quarter earnings at his Las Vegas and Macau resorts.
If he builds the convention center it would be adjacent to both the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo and Convention Center, creating a cluster of centers with more than 5 million square feet of combined exhibit space. It would put more exhibition space within three blocks just east of the Strip than there is in Chicago, the nation's second-largest convention market in terms of leased space after Las Vegas, according to a national directory of convention halls.
"It would attract even more to the city of Las Vegas," said Todd Neely, vice president of Western region sales for Champion Exposition Services, a trade-show contractor. "I definitely think there is a market."
A representative for Wynn did not return a call Friday to discuss the proposal. But Wynn described some aspects of it during the call Thursday.
"Both of the new hotels will be completely integrated with the exhibit space," Wynn said, according to a transcript of the call published by the Web site Seeking Alpha. "And when I say completely integrated, you will walk out of the lobby, down a 150-foot corridor into the exhibit space."
Wynn said the convention center would stretch about 2,000 feet from behind the existing Encore and Wynn Las Vegas hotels to Paradise Road, across from the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"And I think when we're done, we will have this wonderful nonurban environment ... people will be able to enjoy when they come for conventions and meeting space," he said, according to the transcript.
Wynn didn't give a completion date for the project, but it would likely be after 2010 when Las Vegas Sands Corp. is scheduled to complete a $680 million convention center that could replace the company's Sands Expo and Convention Center.
Neely said Wynn's project would likely compete for some events with the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Expo and Convention Center, Mandalay Bay Convention Center and convention halls at Echelon, a resort Boyd Gaming Corp. plans to open in 2010.
But it could also attract new business to Las Vegas, especially if the project is completed as described by Wynn on Thursday.
Some of the most frequent complaints from trade show operators include the long walks from hotels to events and that there are too many distractions such as gambling and drinking along the way.
"You get some of these facilities and you are walking a mile almost to the convention space," Neely said. "A lot of conventioneers are still afraid of Las Vegas because of the gaming. (Wynn's proposed project) will take that aspect out of it. That is a huge advantage."
He said a large, upscale convention center would help attract major medical trade shows that have been reluctant to move to Las Vegas.
Wynn would need to be careful, though, not to build a convention center that is so costly that organizations couldn't afford to lease space.
Major trade show organizers such as Consumer Electronics Association, which holds the International Consumer Electronics Show, have complained in recent years about rising costs in coming to Las Vegas.
Wynn said Thursday he expects plans for the project to be ready in December
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