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Convention Center Drive anticipates major rejuvenation

Take a trip down Convention Center Drive, and you’ll see myriad open spaces in shopping centers, a restaurant pad for sale and empty spots on office building directories. As it stands, the lane leading up to the Las Vegas Convention Center is home to a number of longtime businesses mixed in with spaces left vacant during the recession. But that dynamic may change in the next few years.

After the Las Vegas Global Business District plan was approved in February, one aspect was made certain: Convention Center Drive will be a focus. To what extent and how it could look isn’t immediately clear, but those businesses residing on the street are sure to see changes in their neighborhood.

The Las Vegas Global Business District, a decade long, $2.5 billion project to re-create the Las Vegas Convention Center and the surrounding area calls for aesthetic improvements, technological enhancements, a World Trade Center and overall Las Vegas branding in the areas leading up to and including the convention center at 3150 Paradise Road.

And that’s where Convention Center Drive comes in.

When the plan was approved, Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, called it a defining moment. He said in February that he envisions a bustling Convention Center Drive lined with shops and restaurants leading up to the convention hall.

As for those already in the neighborhood, they say bring it on.

At 355 Convention Center Drive sits Piero’s, a Las Vegas institution since 1982. The Italian eatery stands between the convention center and Marriott International’s hotel.

Inside Piero’s, owner Evan Glusman serves up Italian specialties such as linguine portofino or saltimbocca alla romana to Las Vegas dignitaries and tourists alike. And he’s not hurting for business. No, Glusman says he’s almost back to his “epic” numbers from 2006 and 2007.

“Business is good,” Glusman says. “When the convention center is up, that directly affects us. But a lot of our business is based on overall Las Vegas tourism.”

Last year, 39.7 million people visited Las Vegas, and convention attendance was up 1.6 percent to 4.94 million people.

“In my mind, Vegas is back,” Glusman says.

LOT FOR SALE

The restaurateur averages 250 checks a night, but during conventions that number rises to 450 to 500 each evening.

“We have huge banquet space, so we have a lot of corporate dinners when conventions are in town, which is great for us,” Glusman says.

If you’ve driven down Convention Center Drive recently though, you may have noticed a for-sale sign on Piero’s property.

Glusman is not selling Piero’s.

No, he’s trying to sell the pad adjacent to him, which is his parking lot. His plan is to sell the parcel to another, complimentary restaurant, then he’d build a shared driveway and parking garage in back of both. If he can’t find a suitable buyer, Glusman says he might open a Mexican restaurant in the space .

“Mexican is great for lunch and you’re going to capture that 4-6 o’clock crowd when they get out of the convention center. That location has a gaming license, and the food should be more median priced for the masses. Mexican hits that mode,” Glusman says.

And if he develops the site, expect a large patio with plenty of seating.

He acknowledges that ingress and egress from Piero’s could be tough during the convention center’s planned construction, but overall, he sees the renovations as positive.

SATISFIED OWNERS

As for the rest of Convention Center Drive, Glusman says he doesn’t think any of the current owners will vacate because of the authority’s planned renovations.

“I think if anything it’ll drive property value up and people will want to be here more,” Glusman says.

An expansion at Royal Resort down the street might happen, but Glusman says he doesn’t think that’s concrete yet. Requests for comment from the property were declined.

As for Marriott International, which owns the parcels surrounding Glusman’s place, it’s already set its plans in motion. In March, the hotel chain received approval to periodically rent out its 1.4 acres at the southwest corner of Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive. Planned uses include overflow convention parking, taxi or limo staging, or as outdoor exhibitor space.

Across the street inside Somerset Shopping Center, only a few businesses are operating: Meskrem Restaurant and Ethiopian Market, Wells Spa and Hudson Dry Cleaning. Tesfaye Armidi, owner of Hudson Dry Cleaning and Meskrem Restaurant, has been in the shopping center for 17 years.

His customers primarily consist of conventioneers and cab drivers, so he says he supports the planned renovations, if it brings more customers to the shopping center.

“Sometimes business is slow, but when conventions are running we do fine,” Armidi says. “There’s foot traffic, and people show up, then we wait for the next convention.”

CONVENTION BUSINESS BOOMING

As for the vacant spaces in the shopping center, Armidi says the landlord is trying to rent them out, but he doesn’t think anyone’s signed a lease yet. Irwin Kishner, who manages the center, says he’s trying to fill the vacancies and plans to work with the authority moving forward.

“We will work with them any way possible. (Their plan,) it’s not grandiose, it’s not inconceivable. I think they’re doing an excellent job,” Kishner says.

The Rodeway Inn just next to Somerset is doing fairly well, says general manager Jimmy Kehagias. Occupancy at the motel is at about 55 percent this year, and if the convention center renovations go through Kehagias says he expects that to grow by about 15 percent. Next door, Vegas Indoor Skydiving at 200 Convention Center Drive, isn’t so sure the authority’s plans will have any effect.

The reason? Company spokeswoman Kristine Reynolds says her clientele is 90 percent tourists, but that doesn’t include many conventioneers.

“Honestly, with the convention center being right down the street, you would think we get a lot of business from the conventioneers, but (we don’t,)” Reynolds says.

“The only time when we get busy from them is during the SHOT Show with military guys testing equipment in our wind tunnel. A few from CES and NAB come, and the Global Rally Cross drew a lot of people, but that’s an extreme sports convention.”

The first phase of the Las Vegas Global Business District, under way through 2014, is estimated to cost $150 million, or all bond revenue the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has available.

The remainder of the project isn’t funded.

Requests to speak with a representative from the Clarion also went unanswered.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.

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