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Tech upgrades coming with $1.4B Las Vegas Convention Center expansion

Imagine someone from another country trying to find their way around a Las Vegas convention attended by more than 170,000 people.

It happens every year when CES comes to town.

About 50,000 attendees from 150 different countries are among those who arrive at several Las Vegas convention venues, including the Las Vegas Convention Center. That’s the place that’s in line for a $1.4 billion expansion and renovation over the next six years.

Overshadowed by the plans to build a new 600,000-square-foot exhibition hall, 150,000 square feet of new meeting rooms and corridors to connect them and existing halls together is a plan to upgrade the facility’s technology.

Terry Miller, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s contracted builder representative, said the technological upgrades planned in the renovation would boost the center’s stature to a new level.

“This is not experimental stuff,” Miller said in an interview. “This is technology that exists. We now need to move forward into what is a fairly economical way to do what we’ve done for years with the new hardware and technology.

“It’s not necessarily unique in technology, but it will be unique in the application there at the Convention Center,” he said.

Miller said some convention centers around the country use the technology, “but nobody does it to the extent I’m suggesting.”

Kiosks for wayfinding

The upgrade will include the installation of digital services kiosks across the campus that will have the capability of reading a computer chip embedded in name badges printed out for every convention and trade show.

Maps, information and schedules would be preprogrammed, and an attendee would be able to access the easiest way to get to a particular booth or location, transportation options if necessary, and other information critical to the unfamiliar visitor. Screens at the kiosks will enable users to zoom in on details for easier wayfinding.

Chipped name badges also produce potential new benefits for conventioneers. The Las Vegas Monorail partnered with the producers of last month’s ConExpo-Con/Agg and Association of Equipment Manufacturers construction industry trade shows to provide unlimited monorail rides for show attendees. Access to the monorail was embedded in a chip in the show’s registration badges, and all one had to do was flash it past a scanner at the monorail entrances to ride.

Digital displays also will be a part of the Convention Center’s technological upgrade. Currently, shows display banners throughout exhibit halls and common areas. Digital displays can occupy entire walls and be programmed with a few computer keystrokes.

Used in arenas

While the technology exists and is used in stadiums, arenas, airports and train stations, it would be a first for a convention center, and the strategy is to give one more reason for show producers to choose Las Vegas for their events.

“Quite honestly, it’s what we’ve done in stadiums and arenas for a number of years now,” Miller said. “You can turn an entire arena or stadium into a brand — Coca-Cola or ConExpo or CES — so that everything throughout the campus can be turned to this brand imagery. And that’s not only in the inside, but on the outside.”

The LVCVA is still more than a month away from taking ideas to the design stage, but the planning continues to be on track and financing plans are underway.

The project will be funded by an estimated $275 million in cash reserves, anticipated to be about $40 million to $50 million annually; a $100 million maximum revolving credit agreement; and $1.1 billion from tax-exempt municipal bonds.

The cash reserves will come from savings generated over several line items. The LVCVA budgets conservatively and periodically transfers savings from the operating budget into reserves. One example of anticipated savings: The LVCVA has transferred the operation of Cashman Center’s exhibit halls, meeting rooms and theater to the city, saving about $1.5 million a year in operational costs.

The LVCVA often pays off revolving credit in advance to ease construction cost budgets.

From Senate Bill 1

The biggest portion of the project will be paid with bonds authorized by last fall’s passage of Senate Bill 1 — the same legislation that established the public funding for the planned $1.9 billion Las Vegas stadium project.

The bill, approved in a special session, authorized a 0.5 percentage-point increase in Clark County’s hotel room tax to be dedicated to retiring bonds for construction and expansion of the Convention Center. The bonds are backed and pledged by LVCVA revenue, which includes rental agreements on conventions and trade shows. There is also potential backing by Clark County’s ad valorem pledge.

Senate Bill 1 placed a cap on collection fees distributed by Clark County and its municipalities.

One other thing Senate Bill 1 mandated: a panel of construction and financing industry experts to oversee the actions taken by the LVCVA board of directors.

Oversight panel

The Oversight Panel for Convention Facilities in Clark County has met three times since the start of the year and has developed a timeline for approving the Convention Center’s construction and financing plan.

In February, the seven-member panel reviewed the scope of the Convention Center District plan, including details of what will be built.

Scheduling construction is just as important as the facility itself. The LVCVA is trying to develop the new and renovated facilities without disrupting the thousands of shows and conventions that use the building every year.

That will require building and opening the new exhibition hall — expected to be completed by the end of 2020, then working on the additions and renovations between the end of 2019 to the end of 2022.

The plan is to move shows into the new building, then work on the four other halls in six-month increments over 2021 and 2022, shutting down the central hall in early 2021, the north hall in late 2021, the top floor of the south hall in early 2022 and the lower floor in late 2022.

The LVCVA planned the ambitious scheduling to make sure shows don’t move elsewhere, even for a year.

By the end of construction, the Las Vegas Convention Center will have 1.9 million square feet of exhibit space, the second-largest in the country behind Chicago’s McCormick Place.

But with Las Vegas Sands’ Expo and Convention Center and the recently expanded Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas is the clear leader for convention space in the United States.

In March’s Oversight Panel meeting, members received detailed reports on the financing of the project.

Future timeline

On April 27, the board will meet again to review and discuss design and construction methods.

In early May, the LVCVA board is expected to approve the final plan. The Oversight Board’s approval would follow a couple of weeks later.

Where it could get interesting is if the Oversight Board doesn’t approve the LVCVA’s version. If that happens, the parties will have to find compromises, or the LVCVA board could overrule with a supermajority vote.

Oversight Panel Chairman Bill Ham, president of MGM Resorts International Design, did not return calls for comment on how he thinks the process is going.

Miller, however, is confident they will be able to work together, and he says it’s going exactly the way the legislation intended.

“I think the process is going well,” Miller said. “We’re very happy with the process that we’re going through with the panel members. They’re providing review and comments from perspectives they have with their particular roles in their organizations. We’re satisfied at this point and I hope they are too.”

Over the second half of 2017, designers and architects will go to work with ground expected to be broken on the new hall early next year.

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

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