|By Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 26, 2013--The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority today approved the concept and the first phase of a $2.5 billion overhaul of the Las Vegas Convention Center that includes a World Trade Center building and a multimodal transportation center.
The board voted unanimously to back what is being called the Las Vegas Global Business District, which would be developed over eight to 10 years.
It would be the first major expansion of the 54-year-old Convention Center in more than a decade.
The first phase, which would include assessing land acquisition needs, approving financing arrangements, arranging requests for proposals for proposals for planners, architects and project managers and making some minor improvements in existing space, would cost an estimated $150 million.
LVCVA President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter said the massive project represents a vision for the convention and meetings industry's future and that would be a defining moment in protecting the 370,000 tourism industry jobs that are in part dependent on attracting millions of people to the city for meetings and trade shows.
Las Vegas, Ralenkotter said, "has a target on its back" from other convention host cities nationwide that are trying to steal business from the city, which has been the leading trade show destination for 18 years.
The first phase of the project is expected to run through 2014, and the LVCVA board is expected to see some of the first requests to approve budgets and financing by its May meeting.
The LVCVA already has the bonding capacity to handle the $150 million in financing for the initial phase of the project and about 25 percent of the capacity for the entire plan. Ralenkotter said his office is exploring a variety of financing options, including seeking grants that it would qualify for making it an environmentally sustainable development.
In addition, Ralenkotter is exploring proposals for private companies to build the World Trade Center component and lease it back to the LVCVA. He's also formed a committee of shareholders from the transportation industry -- representatives of the Regional Transportation Commission, the Las Vegas Monorail and the bus, limousine and taxi industries -- to work on the details of the transportation hub.
The Convention Center was designated as a World Trade Center site in 2010 through a partnership established with the Consumer Electronics Association, which brings the Consumer Electronics Show to Las Vegas every year.
In a 45-minute presentation at a special meeting of the LVCVA board, Ralenkotter said the Las Vegas Global Business District plan was developed through research and focus groups with key users of the Convention Center, including the managers of major Las Vegas trade shows.
Out of that research came proposals to renovate the Convention Center, including building additional exhibit space, meeting rooms and general session space; upgrading technology; adding new food and beverage outlets; and creating a concourse connector with additional lobby space.
There's also a plan to develop more outdoor gathering spaces and to enhance the Convention Center campus with some iconic design elements. Ralenkotter, who has been with the LVCVA for nearly 40 years, looks to bring some historic imagery to the campus with classic resort signage, representations of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign and a large structure reminiscent of the rotunda that served as the first Convention Center in the 1960s and '70s.
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