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Coronavirus pandemic slapped Las Vegas in a lost 2020

For Southern Nevada, 2020 promised to be the best economic year ever.

It was going to include a new resort opening its doors, the promising debut of the NFL Draft in town, a sparkling new convention hall with its innovative transit system debuting in time for what was expected to be a record-breaking CES, and the opening of Allegiant Stadium for UNLV and our newest professional sports franchise, the Las Vegas Raiders.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic arrived and everything changed.

Now it seems we’re on another upswing and there’s optimism again in the Las Vegas orbit.

But the last year has been a unnerving and unpredictable ride.

That new resort did open — Circa in downtown Las Vegas — but with a restricted number of celebrants attending the opening.

Any pressure on construction workers to beat a deadline to build the West Hall Convention Center expansion was relieved in July when the organizers of CES decided to cancel the in-person version of the city’s largest annual trade show.

West Hall contractors had promised to deliver the project by mid-December in time for January’s CES, but with no CES to worry about, construction workers were allowed to take a slower pace. At this point, all anyone has to worry about are the cost overruns associated with workers having to social distance themselves, which made labor costs more expensive.

The NFL Draft came — and went — in April without a stop in Las Vegas where some of the eye-popping Vegas elements had been planned for what could have been one of our city’s most successful special events. Luckily, the NFL agreed that all that planning shouldn’t go to waste and Las Vegas will get to host the 2022 draft. Now if only the league could set that inaugural Las Vegas Super Bowl …

Allegiant Stadium opened on time for the Raiders’ first season in Las Vegas. The $2 billion venue looks beautiful from the outside and, on TV, gorgeous on the inside. The Raiders and UNLV got to enjoy the new digs, but Garth Brooks had to postpone what would have been the first concert event at the stadium. That, too, has been rescheduled, for July 10.

I’m still hopeful the Raiders will schedule some kind of free all-day open house someday so that the public that helped pay for the 65,000-seat venue can see it in person.

Positive notes

So now, it’s back to optimism as coronavirus test positivity rates fall and the number of vaccinations rise. What’s next on our economic roller coaster?

There’s good reason to be positive if we’re listening to what tourism experts say.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill said last week that changes in attitude about travel have been moving swiftly.

“We’ve gone from basically six weeks ago having very few people (wanting to travel) to six weeks from now, we think virtually everybody will want to get back to traveling again,” he told the LVCVA board of directors.

He said the LVCVA has both a leisure and business plan ready to roll out when the time is right.

“Both the leisure and the business plan recognize that quick evolution so we’re starting with having others (social media influencers) tell our story, then getting back to our normal message and then move forward as we get into May and June,” Hill said.

In the parade of gaming company earnings calls that have occurred over the last month, a common theme has been that bookings and visitation have been stronger in the first three months of this year than the fourth quarter of 2020. Companies with convention facilities are saying their booking calendars look strong for the foreseeable future and that shows that canceled in 2020 are coming back in 2021 and 2022.

And, in another upbeat note, the Life is Beautiful music and arts festival sold out in record time. All tickets for the three-day music fest, scheduled for Sept. 17-19 in downtown Las Vegas, were snapped up hours after going on sale Friday.

Government leaders are forecasting brighter days ahead with President Joe Biden last week directing states to make vaccinations available to all adults by May and that the Fourth of July holiday may look like something approaching normal this year.

Onward

So there’s much to look forward to.

The LVCVA has been talking about having some kind of open house for the West Hall expansion in May. A big ad campaign will kick off by May. The massive Electric Daisy Carnival appears to be on track for May 21-23. The first major convention to appear in Southern Nevada since March 2020 — World of Concrete — is scheduled for June 8. And the LVCVA has kicked around the idea of having some kind of big event establishing that Las Vegas has officially returned.

Maybe that should occur on the Fourth of July, part of a three-day weekend this year, thanks to July 4 falling on a Sunday. Can you imagine a massive fireworks display on the Strip that night after going without on New Year’s Eve and last year’s Independence Day?

The Fourth of July never looked so good.

We can celebrate getting off the roller coaster — and hope the next ride isn’t as bumpy.

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

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