Traffic questions loom as Las Vegas Convention Center upgrade OK’d

Just before the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors voted unanimously, as expected, to approve proceeding on a $1.4 billion expansion and renovation project for the Las Vegas Convention Center, some board members offered a few sobering remarks.

With all the hundreds of thousands of people coming to Las Vegas to participate in the dozens of new trade shows the expansion is likely to generate, not to mention hundreds of thousands more that will attend events at the planned Las Vegas stadium, how are the people expected to get around?

Before the 10-0 vote on the project that had its origins more than a decade ago, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman asked questions that were on the periphery of both project debates.

“I’ve seen it in San Diego and Orlando,” Goodman said. “The ability to move the people easily from one part of the city to another is critical. Somewhere out there, that needs to be a part of what we’re doing.”

Coming in 2020

Policymakers will have a few years to think about it with the timeline for the completion of the stadium ending in the summer of 2020 and the end of the expansion phase of the convention project scheduled for completion by the end of that year.

While the Las Vegas Monorail serves the Convention Center, there’s a lack of surface transportation to the facility and parking will be diminished with the new exhibit hall. The stadium also lacks parking and nearby transportation.

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee last year discussed transportation systems as a need and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada recently received authority to explore the construction of a light-rail system. But the system under consideration would serve the Maryland Parkway corridor from McCarran International Airport to downtown Las Vegas and wouldn’t touch the convention center or the stadium sites.

There was no suspense over whether the board would approve the convention center project when it came to a vote Tuesday. Two boards, the seven-member Oversight Panel for Convention Facilities in Clark County, and the seven-member Las Vegas Convention District Committee made unanimous affirmative recommendations for the project over the past three weeks.

Four board members — casino industry representatives Chuck Bowling of MGM Resorts International, Tom Jenkin of Caesars Entertainment and Maurice Wooden of Wynn Resorts — and Henderson Councilman John Marz didn’t attend the meeting.

Two phases

Approval of the project, split into two phases, means LVCVA administrators can go to work seeking a construction manager that will be responsible for delivering the first phase — an $860 million, 600,000-square-foot exhibition hall which will be placed on what currently is referred to as the Gold and Diamond parking lots, most likely adjacent to the west side of Paradise Road — by the end of 2020.

Officials have stressed that some of the renderings of the project aren’t pare of the completed design and final locations haven’t been set.

Once the new hall is in place, crews will begin work on the $540 million second phase of the project, a coordinated renovation of four existing exhibition halls with the addition of a 200,000-square-foot connector.

When both projects are completed by 2023, the Convention Center will have 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space, making it the second-largest convention center in the United States behind Chicago’s McCormick Place.

The LVCVA considered a major renovation project in 2007, but the concept was mothballed in 2009 when the recession hit. It wasn’t until 2012 that LVCVA administrators felt confident enough in the economy to restart plans.

When the economy bounced back, the directors of several major trade shows made the pitch that Las Vegas should expand its facilities as well as upgrade to accommodate anticipated show growth. That eventually was refined to the current plan, but the LVCVA found that it wouldn’t be able to manage the financial burden of the project.

Room-tax increase

As a result, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee recommended developing a financial package at the same time it developed plans for the stadium. In October’s special legislative session, a plan to add a 0.5-percentage-point increase to Clark County’s hotel room tax was included in the legislation.

The LVCVA will pay for the expansion and renovation with a combination of cash on hand, savings from other programs, most notably turning management of Cashman Center over to the city of Las Vegas, and a series of revenue and general obligation bonds supported by the room-tax increase that will be sought as needed and when the market is favorable.

Final approval of the project was witnessed by President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who made his first appearance at a board meeting in several weeks since suffering a recurrence of cancer. He declined requests for interviews.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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Convention Center project by the numbers

$1.4 billion

Total cost of expansion and renovation project

600,000

Square footage of new exhibit hall expected for completion by end of 2020

14,000

Number of construction and support jobs anticipated for the project

7,800

Number of permanent full-time jobs expected to be created by project

$12.4 billion

Estimated economic impact of 70 new trade shows Convention Center should attract upon completion of project

$498

Cost per square foot of new exhibit hall, pre-function, support and service space

2.5 million

Total square footage of Las Vegas Convention Center exhibition halls when project is complete in 2023.

1.9 million

Minimum square footage of Convention Center for duration of project

#2

Rank among U.S. convention centers by exhibit space when completed (currently #4)