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Hotel owners feel heat over outdoor advertising

When a large convention comes to Las Vegas, there’s heavy competition for the attention of conventioneers. They host parties for potential buyers, offer free giveaways at exhibit booths and some even take out advertising on the side of hotels surrounding the Las Vegas Convention Center.

That last marketing technique can mean big money to hotels around the center. The Las Vegas Marriott at 325 Convention Center Drive and the Renaissance Las Vegas at 3400 Paradise Road regularly rent their facades to exhibitors looking to reach conventioneers with temporary vinyl wraps that adhere to the outer walls. For the biggest of shows, the International Consumer Electronics Show, RECon, the Specialty Equipment Market Association expo or Mr. Olympia convention, hotels can make as much as $250,000 from short-term outdoor advertising.

While a long-standing way to make a few extra bucks, the practice isn’t universally popular, and Clark County is working on a new ordinance meant to further clarify and regulate the massive wall signs. County Commissioners are scheduled to get the new rules Oct. 17, but hotel owners are already feeling the heat.

Tom Xavier, general manager of the Renaissance, said the hotel has been selling advertising during conventions since he came to the property in 2005. Only last year, however, did the county cite the hotel for failing to obtain required sign permits.

“I felt like there may have been a new interpretation to an existing code,” Xavier said.

Since then, the hotel, which is owned by Jackson Shaw in Dallas, has been careful to obtain required permits, Xavier said.

But during a Clark County Zoning Commission meeting last week, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said not all of the hotels are being so careful. He contended that no fine or an insignificant punishment does little to prevent sign code violations.

“My contention is that it’s so lucrative, they don’t care about getting cited,” Sisolak said.

Xavier said the Renaissance didn’t have to pay a fine when it was cited last year. It’s unclear if any fines were levied.

Clark County sign permits cost from $25-$500, depending on the category in which the sign falls. The Commissioners collectively said that lack of clear categorization for those large-scale wall wraps has added to the issue.

Last week, Bill Curran, managing partner of Ballard Spahr LLP, represented the Marriott and Renaissance at the Clark County Zoning Commission meeting. Curran was there to obtain approval for waivers so that his clients can display the hotel-sized advertising during large conventions, which would allow the vinyl signs to be about 5,300 to 6,500 square feet bigger than allowed under current law.

The Commissioners reluctantly approved the waivers for six major conventions this year.

“I am not in favor of the waivers because I think you’re opening up a whole Pandora’s box here,” Sisolak said.

Others, including Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Mary Beth Scow, echoed Sisolak’s concerns.

And the commissioners aren’t the only ones bothered by the huge ads. Representatives from Lamar Advertising and Clear Channel Outdoor appeared to complain about their hotel competition.

Both companies sell outdoor advertising at rates ranging from $6,500 to $10,620 for four weeks on a 14-by-48-foot billboard.

But, those billboards are dwarfed compared with the larger-than-life advertising the hotels can provide. Commissioner Tom Collins suggested both companies put in bids with the hotels if they want in on the action.

Xavier, the Renaissance GM, responded to the advertising companies’ complaints by saying: “I think that these are specific, specific signs related to the convention center. I don’t think you’re talking about the same competition when you’re talking about a billboard.”

At the center of the controversy, literally, is the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is managed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“We do not advocate for (the wall signs) in any manner whatsoever,” Luke Puschnig, the travel board’s legal counsel, told commissioners. “We tell (visiting companies) if they can legally do it, they should contact the hotel.”

But, he added, “This is a small issue to the conventions and trade shows. … We would like to be able to say ‘yes’ to our conventions and trade shows.”

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly wasn’t impressed by that.

“For the industry, it’s a big issue,” he told Puschnig.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at
lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588.

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