For years, convention organizers have been asking for more out of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
More exhibition space. More meeting rooms. More bandwidth and internet hot spots. More dining areas.
On Monday, work begins on a project that will provide them with all of that while stretching the convention center’s footprint all the way to the Las Vegas Strip.
A groundbreaking event for the second phase of the convention center’s $1.4 billion expansion and renovation will be held on the site of the former Riviera resort, which will be transformed into 1.4 million square feet of new space for exhibitions and meetings. Gov. Brian Sandoval will be on hand for the event, along with several local leaders.
“I’m very excited with this expansion, because I know that it’s going to allow (Las Vegas) to be even more competitive than we are right now and it’s going to give us a facility that will be showcasing conventions on the Las Vegas Strip, as the first expansion building will be over there,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “This is our opportunity to brand us as what we are — the convention capital of North America — but also allow us to continue to position ourselves with our customers.”
The project has profound implications for the economy of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada, with projections calling for it to generate nearly 14,000 construction jobs and 7,800 full-time jobs upon completion. It is expected to draw an additional 600,000 visitors a year, drive $2.1 billion in economic activity during construction and have an annual incremental economic impact of $810 million when finished.
Phase Two of the project is projected to be completed in 2020. After that, workers will move on to renovating the existing 3.2 million-square-foot facility, an approach that allows the convention center not to displace any conventions due to construction. Phase One involved imploding the Riviera and preparing the site for expansion.
Funding for the project was approved by the Legislature in 2016 as part of a package that also included $750 million in taxpayer funds for construction of the Raiders stadium. The money is generated by a 0.5 increase in the Las Vegas hotel room tax.
The LVCVA markets the city’s convention center industry as a whole, not just the Las Vegas Convention Center, so standing in place meant falling behind. Competitors threatened to pick off conventions from the city — or, in some cases, actually did. Case in point: InterBike International Expo, the cycling industry’s largest show, which moved to Reno after pulling out of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The expo draws about 25,000 people annually.
Ralenkotter said having more space at the Las Vegas Convention Center would allow the LVCVA to book more events simultaneously there and create new opportunities for shows held at more than one site.
Ralenkotter said the expansion project was vital in maintaining Las Vegas’ vitality in the competitive convention industry. Along with similar projects up and down the Strip — including major investments by MGM Resorts in convention center expansions at Aria ($150 million), Mandalay Bay ($70 million) and the MGM Grand ($130 million) — the upgrade is helping the city hold off such competitors as New York City ($1.5 billion expansion of the Javits Center) and San Francisco ($500 million upgrade of the Moscone Center).
“At the current time, we have over $25 billion of business that we need to protect with this expansion, and then we’ve identified some new shows that could come into the destination but that we currently can’t handle because of the fact that we already have conventions booked here or we need more space,” Ralenkotter said.
Meanwhile, major clients like the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the annual CES convention, were requesting upgrades to facilities in Las Vegas. CES, the city’s largest convention, is expected to attract 175,000 attendees this year.
Chris Thompson, who markets the U.S. travel and convention industry globally as president and CEO of Brand USA, said the expansion would boost Las Vegas’ stature as an international destination for holding conventions and doing business.
“Most people would say, ‘Well, how tough is it to market Las Vegas?’ Well, the landscape changes, the opportunities change, the size of shows and what the organizers look for to support those shows and enhance the experiences of delegates changes,” he said. “So even though in most people’s eyes, Las Vegas probably has a plethora of attributes, even Las Vegas has to continue to rise to a high bar.”
The expansion comes amid some other positive developments along the north Strip, including an uptick in construction at the Genting Resorts World site, Steve Wynn’s purchase of the former New Frontier site and recent news that the owners of the Fountainebleau planned to forge ahead on plans to finish the 60-story resort.
“We’re seeing a lot of excitement,” Ralenkotter said. “A lot of people are looking to parlay what we will bring into the destination as far as new delegates to our town — trade show attendees and exhibitors and so forth — who experience us for the first time but at some other time will come back as a visitor.”
Ralenkotter said the expansion was part of Las Vegas’ ongoing reinvention from a tourism and gaming destination to a global leader in convention travel, a community with pro sports and a place to do business.
“There are going to be a lot of emotions (Monday),” he said. “When we throw that first piece of dirt — standing on the site of the old Riviera and looking at the Strip — we’ll be saying, ‘This is amazing.’ It’s going to be one of those ‘Wow!’ moments.”