by By the M&C Staff | May 06, 2009

According to the Seattle Times, the $766 million expansion of the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, which has been under discussion for some time, will be delayed. The expansion proposal ground to a halt after the Washington state legislature rejected a request by the WSCTC for $15 million to secure a land option for the project and to proceed with its design. Instead, the legislature offered $10 million for additional study and design work, contingent upon the completion of new feasibility and financing studies. In response, the convention center board, led by WSCTC president John Christison, chose to reject the $10 million, citing a $90,000 feasibility study the center already has completed. They asked the governor to veto the bill. Christison told M&C that the additional study "would probably have cost us $300,000, for which we would have had to dig into our operating budgets." He said the center did not want to pursue the study with no guarantee that the $10 million would be available when it was completed. "We would rather wait until the next legislative session, which starts in July 2010, and try a different approach," he said. "Right now we are looking at a year's delay." 

Local Businessman Buys The Greenbrier
West Virginia businessman Jim Justice's company has purchased the 721-room Greenbrier resort and 80 percent of The Greenbrier Sporting Club in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The Justice Family Group, LLC, acquired the historic property by buying stock in The Greenbrier's holding company. "I am very excited to become part of one of America's finest traditions," said Justice. "The Greenbrier is uniquely 'West Virginian,' and I look forward to working with the team to build on its legacy." Justice plans to seek dismissal of the resort's bankruptcy. His actions negate earlier reports that Marriott International was poised to buy the 6,500-acre Greenbrier, subject to the bankruptcy proceedings. "We have not yet seen any documents regarding the transaction other than the press release," Marriott said in a statement. "Our purchase agreement for the resort remains outstanding." The statement added that Marriott still is assessing the situation. "Obviously, our having entered into a purchase and sale agreement involving the resort demonstrates that we think it's an exceptional property, and we continue to look forward to having the opportunity to ultimately manage the Greenbrier within the Marriott system." Earlier this week, union members at the resort  approved a new contract, according to Travel Weekly, M&C's sister publication, ending a labor dispute that was partly to blame for pushing the resort into bankruptcy. The impasse lasted more than a year. Even before the current recession hit the meetings business hard, large groups last spring and summer were canceling meetings at the Greenbrier out of fear of possible strikes. Greenbrier owner CSX Corp., which had agreed to sell the resort to Marriott for up to $130 million, made a final labor offer last week. Workers overwhelmingly approved the pact, the resort said. The Greenbrier lost $35 million in 2008. Earlier this year, it laid off 650 employees, or about half of its work force.

Flu Cases Rise Internationally but Slow in Mexico
According to the World Health Organization's May 5 update, 21 countries have officially confirmed 1,124 cases of influenza A (H1N1), commonly known as swine flu. Both WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, underscore that the rise in confirmed cases is now due to streamlined testing methods, as opposed to a rapid spread of the infection. The U.S. has 286 laboratory-confirmed cases, according to the update, with one death, while Mexico has confirmed 590 cases, including 25 deaths. There is still much speculation about the larger numbers of cases previously reported by Mexican authorities; just how many of the cases were of the H1N1 strain is uncertain, as are the reasons why the disease has been more severe in Mexico. Most of the confirmed cases in Mexico remain in the central part of the country, with Mexico City home to the greatest number. While the WHO recommends that people with symptoms delay international travel, and that those who recently returned from international travel seek medical attention if they develop symptoms, the organization advises no restrictions on regular travel or closure of borders. The CDC issued a travel advisory last week recommending against nonessential travel to Mexico. According to Mexico's secretary of health, no new deaths from the infection have been reported in the country since last Wednesday, and the number of new cases is declining rapidly. As a result, Mexican businesses will begin reopening this week. A survey conducted by the National Business Travel Association found that 61 percent of 113 travel managers say their travelers are canceling trips to Mexico; one-third of respondents (34 percent) estimate the costs of travel changes, cancellations and loss of business to be less than $500. According to a survey conducted last week by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, 37 percent of 78 international corporate travel managers reported they were canceling meetings, or restricting travelers from attending meetings, in which they could be exposed to the virus through colleagues from countries with reported incidents. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they’d made no changes to their meetings programs.

County Commissioners Vote to Reform Orlando CVB
The Orange County (Fla.) Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to enact reforms to the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, following an audit released last February that revealed a lack of transparency in CVB spending procedures. New measures include the disclosure of executive salaries, the requirement of board approval for major decisions such as compensation and policies, the posting of board of director meeting minutes online and semi-annual presentations to the public.

Casino Commission OKs Tropicana Auction
The Atlantic City Casino Control Commission last week approved the sale of the Tropicana Casino Resort to a group of its lenders and authorized the casino's conservator to ask a U.S. bankruptcy court judge to schedule an auction for the property. A group of investors spearheaded by billionaire financier Carl Icahn has offered to buy the property for $200 million. According to the commission, attorneys are hoping the bankruptcy judge will set a June date for the auction.

MGM Mirage, Dubai World Reach CityCenter Agreement

MGM Mirage and Dubai World subsidiary Infinity World, joint-venture partners in the development of the Las Vegas CityCenter project, successfully renegotiated development terms last week with one another and with CityCenter's lenders. The new plan should ensure full funding for the project; it still is scheduled to open at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Dubai World will drop the lawsuit filed against MGM Mirage in March. MGM Mirage also released first-quarter earnings, which reflect a 20 percent year-over-year decrease in revenue and a 34 percent decrease in revenue per available room for properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The results particularly were affected by increased convention cancellations in January and February, according to the company's earnings report.

New Hotels Planned for DFW Airport
Officials at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport have chosen a developer for a mixed-used project called Southgate Plaza that will include a full-service and a limited-service hotel, according to the Dallas Business Journal. Also included in the plan are restaurants, retail space and offices. The full-service hotel would have about 300 rooms and about 24,000 square feet of meeting space, while the select-service hotel would offer 120 rooms and about 1,500 square feet of meeting space. Construction is expected to take three years.

Cleveland Sells Convention Center to the County

Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson has negotiated a deal with Cuyahoga County commissioners to sell the city's downtown convention center to the county for $20 million, bringing the county one step closer to building a new center and a connected medical mart facility on the site. The deal has to be approved by the city council and ratified by the commissioners, which could happen as soon as Thursday. Mark Falanga, senior vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which will develop the joint facility with the county, says the architectural process could take "at least a year" to complete before construction starts. Falanga says the city's Public Auditorium, included in the transaction with the county, will be renovated and could host events before the rest of the complex is completed. No timeline has been set for the opening of the new facilities.

U.S. Airlines Cut Mexico Flight Capacity Over Swine Flu Fears
Over the past week and a half, in response to fears over a swine flu pandemic, all five U.S. legacy carrier airlines announced temporary flight capacity reductions to Mexico. Through the end of May, US Airways is cutting 38 percent of its Mexico-bound flights; United 60 percent; American 25 percent (until June 10), and Continental, the largest airline serving Mexico, 50 percent. Delta also said it would make capacity cuts to Mexico, though the airline did not indicate to what extent.

Frontier Airlines Flying High
According to the Denver Business Journal, Frontier Airlines is trading up some of its planes. CFO Ted Christie told the paper the carrier has exchanged a 120-person Airbus 318 for a 162-seat Airbus 320 and is looking for similar trading opportunities. While dire numbers for the airline industry continue to mount, Frontier recently announced its fifth consecutive month with an operating profit.

NBTA Director Moving On
Bill Connors, CTC, executive director and COO of the National Business Travel Association, is leaving the association as of June 15 to become president and CEO of the Metro Boise (Idaho) Chamber of Commerce. Connors led NBTA for six years. In a statement, associations president and CEO Kevin Maguire, CCTE, said, "Under Bill's six years at the helm of the NBTA staff, the organization has expanded in remarkable ways to better serve the managed travel community around the world."

Business Travel
Business Travel Shifts to Buyers in 2009
According to American Express Business Travel, average airfares for the first quarter of 2009 were down 9 percent for domestic flights and 12 percent for international flights, as compared to first quarter 2008. Findings released in the company's Business Travel Monitor also revealed that coach overtook business class as the highest percentage of bookings in the quarter. Hotel rates decreased 12 percent year-over-year for the quarter, both domestically and internationally.

Convention Centers
Convention Center Worker ID Program Being Tested
The Exhibition Services & Contractors Association will begin testing a new worker identification program this summer that will allow convention center laborers to use one standard ID badge at multiple centers. Atlanta, Dallas and Houston will be the test cities. Use of ESCA badges will eliminate the need for workers to obtain separate IDs at each building and will ensure proper screening of employees and monitoring of access to convention facilities, according to ESCA.

Convention and Visitor Bureaus
35 CVBs Set to Participate in U.S. Travel Rally Day
On Tuesday, May 12, at least 35 convention and visitor bureaus are hosting activities to celebrate the first U.S. Travel Rally Day, a pro-travel initiative of the U.S. Travel Association. For example, the New Orleans CVB is celebrating by staging a parade on Canal Street, in which hospitality workers, musicians and marching bands will participate. The Atlanta CVB will hold an event at the High Museum of Art, where a panel of bureau members will discuss creative business plans and what's on the horizon for development in Atlanta. For a list of city participants, go to

RevPAR Down in the First Quarter
Revenue per available room was down in the first quarter of this year, according to a number of hotel-company earnings reports released last week. RevPAR at Starwood Hotels & Resorts dropped by nearly 24 percent year-over-year, while Wyndham reported a more modest 14 percent decrease and Choice Hotels revealed a 10.3 percent decline. In other hotel news, Accor, Europe's largest hotelier, plans to set aside more than US$100 million a year to buy distressed hotels, CFO Jacques Stern told Reuters Sunday. In April, the French hotel company revealed a 9.6 percent drop in first-quarter sales.

Westin's Brush to Retire
Sue Brush, senior vice president and global brand leader for Westin Hotels & Resorts, announced she will retire as of Dec. 31, 2009. The 30-year Westin veteran has helped guide the brand through many well-known initiatives, including the introduction of the Heavenly Bed and subsequent retail partnerships. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Westin's parent company, has named Nancy London as her successor. London currently is the vice president of marketing for the Westin global brand team; she has been with Starwood since 2001 and began working for Westin in 2004.

Houston Hyatt Finishes Renovations

A $40 million renovation has been completed at the 947-room Hyatt Regency Houston. Aside from upgrading all the rooms, the LobbiBar has been redesigned and the 64,000 square feet of meeting space has been refurbished. A Shula's Steak House also has opened at the property.

Conversion of Cleveland Doubletree Complete
The 379-room Doubletree Hotel Cleveland Downtown Lakeside celebrated its official opening last week, following a $15 million renovation and rebranding. Formerly a Holiday Inn, the hotel has 11,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 5,600-square-foot ballroom, and is within a few blocks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Browns Stadium and the downtown convention center.

TicketLeap Launches Web-Based Ticketing/Payment Solution
Online event registration provider TicketLeap launched TicketLeap Anywhere today, a web-based reservation and payment solution that can be run on a laptop for on-site ticket payments. TicketLeap is free for event organizers, and allows for online reservation and seat selection. A service charge is applied to the ticket price ($.97 for tickets less than $10, $1.97 for tickets more than $10). With TicketLeap Anywhere, event organizers can sell tickets onsite using Internet-connected computers and, optionally, a USB credit-card-swiping device. A credit card processing fee generally is added to the ticket price. Both the swiping device and a bar-code scanner (for processing e-ticket printouts) can be rented from TicketLeap for approximately $20 per event.