Since February, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President Steve Hill had been asking Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick when the trade show industry would be allowed to resume in earnest.
Conventions were shut down after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, and industry officials were eagerly waiting for state and county officials to lift restrictions on large gatherings.
“Steve Hill was bugging me every day,” Kirkpatrick said today at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Las Vegas Convention Center’s $1 billion West Hall expansion.
“He wanted to know about the vaccines and when we were going open. What are we going to do? I was like, ‘OK, I get it,’” Kirkpatrick said.
Today, Las Vegas welcomed back its first major convention — the annual World of Concrete, one of the largest trade shows on the calendar this year.
It was also the debut of the Convention Center expansion, a project originally envisioned over 15 years ago and bogged down amid the economic downturn that started in 2007.
“This is a project that was delayed during the recession,” Hill said. “So many people have their fingerprints on this building, which is a beautiful facility. It’s exciting.”
Work finally started in 2018 on the West Hall, which sits between Las Vegas Boulevard and the Convention Center campus on Paradise Road.
Speakers and attendees at today’s ribbon-cutting included Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.
The 600,000-square-foot expansion includes an underground transport system to whisk passengers around the Convention Center campus. Today marked the first day convention-goers used the tunnel system, which features Tesla electric vehicles.
Inside the West Hall, convention attendees scurried about during the opening day of World of Concrete, which in February 2020 drew over 50,000 people.
Show organizers have been mum about the expected attendance for this week’s show, though Hill said he expected it would be less than previous years.
Still, the show’s return is welcome news for tourism officials and community leaders who know midweek visitation numbers won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until trade shows come back in force.
“We’re open for business, and that’s a wonderful thing for our community,” said John Marz, chairman of the LVCVA’s board of directors and a Henderson city councilman. “The midweek business in Las Vegas depends on this industry. We need the convention business to be a vital, thriving tourism destination.”