The 2010 Winter Las Vegas Market opened Monday with what organizers said could be the highest registered attendance in recent years.
The Las Vegas Market does not release attendance figures, but past events have averaged between 50,000 and 55,000 attendees and more than 1,400 exhibitors. The inaugural 2005 Las Vegas Market drew more than 60,000, according to market officials.
Optimism about the convention, which runs through Friday, was boosted by strong on-site registration on opening day, World Market Center Las Vegas President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Maricich said.
The show's furniture exhibitors and buyers have been among the hardest hit of all businesses during the recession. But Maricich said he noticed a recent uptick in the industry that helped boost attendance at the Las Vegas Market.
"We are exceeding last year's market in February and expecting to be at historical levels," he said Monday. "We have a significant increase from last year."
Maricich said Sunday he had expected market registration to be "dead even" with the last winter market in February 2009.
The furniture industry has gone through one of its worst times in history since the second half of 2007, struggling under the weight of foreclosures and the bottoming out of the housing market. The World Market Center added more events as a draw to the retailers, Maricich explained.
"We have 157 events. We've never had even close to that," he said.
The move to add more educational and industry seminars was designed to offset the declining number of attendees being sent to Las Vegas Market in recent years.
"We get the same number of companies (attending), but they send fewer people. It's easy for a business to say, 'I am not buying right now,' but you still want to learn about your industry," Maricich said.
Market tenants have struggled, resulting in about 110 evictions over the past 16 months, he acknowledged. But about 70 new companies have signed up to fill much of that vacant space, the Las Vegas Market president said.
He said many of the former tenants were exhibitors whose companies had gone out of business.
Some tenants were offered reduced or modified leases if they "made a commitment to the market," Maricich said.
Sill, leasing percentages for the furniture segment remain high, according to Russell Blair, the market's director of furniture leasing.
"The buildings are 96 to 97 percent full on the furniture side," he said.
Market officials are also voicing cautious optimism about what's next for the market's development beyond its existing 5 million square feet of space. No date has been set for groundbreaking of the planned Building D. Those plans were put on hold as lending dried up two years ago.
But original market managing partner and developer Jack Kashani said Las Vegas could see new World Market Center construction in the next few years.
"We have plans for the building (D) and I hope in a year to a year and a half, the market will turn around and we have a great recovery and do that," he said.
This year's market includes the opening of the World Market Center Las Vegas' first hospitality show, Inspireddesign.
While originally scheduled for a separate winter event, the hospitality show will instead coincide with the first three days of the winter furniture show.
Maricich said the move was a cost-saving measure because "it costs a lot to fire up those tents," he said.
The first Inspireddesign show includes 59 temporary exhibitors in Building C, spanning more than 100,000 square feet. Another 186 permanent World Market Center exhibitors are taking part in the trade show.
Exhibitor Jeff Rogers said shortly after the market opened Monday afternoon that he was satisfied with the results in the first couple of hours.
"It's not as busy as the Hospitality and Design show," the head of contracting for Illinois-based Comfort Solutions-King Koil said. "But I see a lot of the same people here. I'll be back next year."
Contact reporter Valerie Miller at email@example.com or 702-387-5286.