Executives of the Anaheim Convention Center found out the hard way what can happen to convention business during a building renovation.
The convention center was preparing to start a major renovation in 1990, and executives of the Men’s Apparel Guild in California, known for its MAGIC fashion trade show, decided to temporarily move the event from Anaheim to Las Vegas.
Since its first appearance in Las Vegas in 1989, MAGIC has never returned to Southern California. It now hosts two shows a year at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and among Las Vegas conventions, it ranks in the top five based on attendance numbers.
The Las Vegas Convention Center is kicking off a 2½-year, $600 million renovation project, but Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, a committee of advisers and his team have made sure there were no reasons for a show to abandon Las Vegas.
In addition to developing a facade similar to the design of the 1.4 million-square-foot, $1 billion West Hall that opened in May 2021, the renovation will upgrade technology and freshen the North and Central halls, add a climate-controlled corridor and relocate the LVCVA’s offices and boardroom to provide better use of space in customer-facing areas.
Initial work on the project began this month with a contractor fencing off the construction zone at the existing east entrance to the South Hall, off Joe W. Brown Drive. Crews will create a pre-function space at that entrance, a new boardroom and the organization’s executive offices.
Currently, LVCVA executives are housed on three floors near the Convention Center’s main entrance, where hallways to the North and Central halls converge.
Once the new offices are built, estimated by the end of the year, it will set the stage for a move that will allow the existing space to be repurposed.
The project’s contractor, a collaboration between Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction Group and the Penta Building Group, is working on drafting construction documents for the second phase — and most visible aspect of the project — so that subcontractors can be hired after approvals of final pricing in May or June.
Las Vegas-based Penta has built casinos and resorts across the country, and Hunt has convention center construction experience in Boston, Dallas, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. The front-facing work that will start in March represents about $200 million of the total $435 million Hunt-Penta contract.
Not a single convention or trade show will be displaced between this month and December 2025, when all work is expected to be completed.
The meticulously planned construction schedule avoids conflicts during major trade shows and conventions by temporarily shutting down construction work.
Hill attributes that to good planning by everyone involved in the development process and Las Vegas’ appeal as a convention destination.
“The community allowed us to build our expansion with the understanding that the renovation would take other space out of commission as we do construction here,” Hill explained in a recent interview.
The planning process began well before Hill became the LVCVA’s top executive — but he was involved as a member of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, formed in July 2015. That committee laid the groundwork for the legislative authorization to build Allegiant Stadium and the Convention Center’s West Hall expansion.
The LVCVA’s top customers — the organizers of CES, MAGIC, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Specialty Equipment Market Association — testified before the committee about the need for expansion and renovation of the Convention Center.
Hill explained that the West Hall will be “replacement space,” as the other exhibit halls will be out of commission during renovations.
Show organizers also pledged to keep returning to the city during the expansion and renovation.
“Las Vegas is so attractive to them,” Hill said. “Las Vegas is such an attractive place for so many reasons, and the city had the wisdom to build additional space to allow this renovation to take place. Our folks here at the Convention Center have great relationships with our customers. But without that building (West Hall) and without Las Vegas being so fantastic, it would have been an uphill climb.”
He said the project couldn’t have been done without the support of the major trade show customers.
“Our customers have been fantastic,” he said. “Those customers came when I wasn’t in this job. I remind them of that, ‘Hey, you guys came and asked us to do this. How about let’s stick it out together and make it work,’ and they’ve just been great.”
One of the reasons Las Vegas is so appealing to convention planners is because attendance at a trade show in Las Vegas is greater than if it had been held somewhere else.
“It’s still true that they get nearly 10 percent better attendance, which is really a meaningful number on average, when they have their show here versus when they have their show elsewhere,” Hill said.
In addition to the customers, the LVCVA had support from the seven-member Oversight Panel for Convention Facilities in Clark County, a group of construction industry professionals, which greenlighted the renovation plan in October. The panel was established by the Legislature as a check and balance on the LVCVA board of directors when it enabled a 0.5 percentage-point increase on the county’s hotel room tax.
It reviewed and approved the entire development schedule after the project was delayed for months by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The addition to the hotel room tax funds the bonds that are helping to pay for the West Hall expansion and the renovation projects.
After the new boardroom and offices are complete, work will start on the front of the building.
The facade of the renovated Convention Center has been designed to resemble the architectural features of the West Hall with its sweeping “snow cone” ribbon that extends from the West Hall across Paradise Road to the older building. A similar iconic ribbon will flow from the North Hall to the Central Hall, but there are no plans to extend it farther across Desert Inn Road to the South Hall.
The North Hall will be temporarily closed from the end of February 2024 through the end of August. Work will start at the end of January 2024 and run through the end of the year on North Hall renovations, refurbishing the hall and meeting rooms, and construction of the main lobby and the north end of the climate-controlled walkway between the North Hall concourse and the west side of the South Hall.
The Central Hall will close between the middle of March 2025 to mid-September that year while work continues on the main lobby and Central Hall connector and more meeting rooms and enhancements to the parking lot and landscaping.
The entire project is scheduled to be completed by the end of December 2025, in time for CES 2026.
When complete, the Las Vegas Convention Center will still house the second-largest meetings facility in North America with 2.54 million square feet of exhibit space behind Chicago’s McCormick Center, which has 2.67 million square feet of exhibit space.