Via Mark Evanier’s blog, I discovered two tidbits of interesting news:
- The Riviera Hotel and Casino, one of the oldest on the Vegas Strip, was sold to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for $182.5 Million.
- The San Diego Convention Center Corporation decided to default on a final payment due of nearly $13.8 million on a 6-acre parcel of land behind the convention center.
- The convention center wants to expand, and has developed plans.
- It would cost $520 Million, increase the size of the Center by a third, and be completed by early 2016.
- Funding would have come from a special taxation district. Judicial review approved the funding plan, and the California Coastline Commission approved the design.
- In August of last year, a California appeals court ruled the taxation scheme unconstitutional. The City did not appeal, and now must either put the plan on the ballot (unlikely to pass given previous votes, two-thirds majority required) or find a different way to fund the expansion. (This is a frequent problem with convention centers. Locals refuse to vote for expansion, as they see it as a further tax burden.)
- Part of the expansion includes land behind the convention center. Fifth Avenue Landing currently leases the land from the Port of San Diego, and has an option to build a 400-room hotel on the property. The lease expires in nine years.
- With funding unlikely, the Convention Center defaulted on a final payment to Fifth Avenue Landing, to the surprise of the city council. Without that 6-acre parcel, a contiguous design is in doubt.
- The Convention Center has spent $10 Million so far on the plans for expansion.
So… the Convention Center has a budget problem, due to all the paperwork, with some maintenance being deferred. The Center must redesign the original plans if they wish to go forward with the expansion. The City needs to find a source of funding which is legal and attractive to the local populace. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers are campaigning for a new stadium downtown, and might skedaddle to Los Angeles if their demands are not met. There has even been a proposal of a joint stadium-convention center. Of course, one would ask how the financing would work… perhaps the city fathers appeal to both the pop culture geeks and the sports geeks by building a subterranean convention center beneath a new football stadium to the east of Petco Park.
Okay… this next one is for you armchair architects. It doesn’t have much to do with comic cons, but it could…
Currently the Las Vegas Convention Center, located in beautiful Winchester, Nevada, offers over 1.9 Million square feet of exhibition space, placing it third behind Chicago and Orlando. As with other convention centers (see above), Las Vegas has stated that they have had to turn away roughly 20 shows due to a lack of space. Other shows are growing and could use more space in Las Vegas. (It should be noted that Mandalay Bay and Venetian/Sands also have large convention centers nearby.)
The answer? Buy a casino. For $182.5 Million. (At $7 Million an acre, that’s a pretty good deal for a property on the Strip.) The Riviera Hotel and Casino, to be precise, one of the original casinos on the Strip, and one with a marginal history. (If you want to grab some memorabilia, or a cheap mattress, the hotel clearance sale starts Thursday!) Located in the superblock west of the current North Hall, the 26-acre lot will be used to expand the convention center further, as well as create the Las Vegas Global Business District.
- Cost: $2.3 Billion. (Immediate funds come from the bank credit facility with JPMorgan, long-term bonds to be issued within the next two years.)
- How will they pay off the debt? Via convention center revenue, and a hotel tax on Vegas’ (Clark County’s) 140,000 hotel rooms. (Current estimate, about $150 Million annually from hotel taxes, at a rate of 12% on the Strip.)
- 480,000 new attendees expected. (Take this with a bit of skepticism. Many convention centers inflate attendance when announcing expansions.) The LVCVA states that current annual attendance is approximately 1.2 Million.
- 750,000 square feet of new exhibit space and 187,500 square feet of supporting meeting space will be added as part of the new 1.8-million-square-foot expansion.
- The current convention center will be renovated afterwards, adding 200,000 square feet to the current site, and bringing the total square footage to… 5.7 Million square feet! (Currently, 3.2 Million)
Here’s a little map I created, via the Clark County GIS. Bright yellow are the lots the LVCVA owns. Muted yellow are the structures on the property. The Riviera site is highlighted, and I’ve tagged each parcel in that block with the prices (if known, in Millions) from the last sale recorded.
The parcels below that block, between Convention Center Drive and Desert Inn Road are mostly hotels, condominiums, and… the Guardian Angel Cathedral, the parish seat of the diocese of Las Vegas. Which, surprisingly for Catholic cathedrals and Vegas, is rather nondescript and low key. The big white spaces in the upper right and lower left are golf courses.
Here’s the Google Map of the area:
As you can see, most of that land is underutilized. I stayed at the Roadway Inn when I attended the American Library Association conference last year, and much of the surrounding real estate is post-apocalyptic. It doesn’t help that the North Strip has usually been low-rent, smaller and less-competitive than the mega-resorts to the south.
Two big developments, the Fontainebleau Resort Las Vegas (1018 rooms) to the north of the Riviera, and Resorts World Las Vegas (3000 rooms, eventually 6583) to the east, are either in stasis or just getting back to construction, after being halted by the Great Recession and bankruptcy proceedings. With the Convention Center being on the Strip, it should boost the neighborhood. I don’t anticipate other hotels being developed nearby, as these two projects will cover most of the demand. (A third casino at The New Frontier site has yet to be officially announced.)
Having walked from the Strip to the Center, as well as from the shuttle buses and monorail, I do hope they fill in the parking lots in the front of the convention center. It’s prime real estate, the parking can be sited underground, and the broiling heat can be avoided as one walks from the shuttle buses or monorail.
The big deal? Like McCormick, all of the buildings will be connected, and offer millions of square feet of both exhibition and meeting space. San Diego currently offers 525,701 square feet of exhibition space (Halls A-H). Hall S could easily accommodate that acreage (908,496 square feet), and still have space left over, along with Halls C and N! Or Sands Expo could host the show, with fans never having to leave the building the entire weekend! (Seriously… 7,000 rooms in the Venetian and Palazzo.)
Meanwhile, if you’re curious about how Las Vegas could host a media carnival such as Comic-Con, take a look at the Rock in Rio musical festival happening this weekend and last. It’s taking place on a lot that’s 25 acres in size. (Halls A-H? Half that space.)
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
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