August 29, 2007

The board of directors for New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center has voted to terminate its Phase IV expansion plans that would have increased the center's 1.1 million square feet of exhibition space by nearly 50 percent. This will free up some funds to refresh areas of the existing center with better furniture, lighting and technology. The board indicated that land set aside for the expansion will not be sold in hopes that some sort of expansion will be possible in the future.

The 3,000-room Venetian Macao opened on the Cotai Strip this week with what owner Las Vegas Sands Corp. calls the world's largest casino floor, at 550,000 square feet. The US$2.4 billion hotel has more than 163,000 square feet of meeting space and more than 800,000 square feet of exhibit space on three levels, plus a 15,000-seat arena. A 1,800-seat theater is due to open early next year. The property also has a spa, more than a dozen restaurants and 1 million square feet of retail space.

In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165 voted to ratify new contracts with MGM Mirage last week. The agreements, negotiated over a period of five months, cover approximately 21,000 employees at 10 Las Vegas casinos. The five-year contracts stipulate a modest cumulative wage and benefits package increase, among many other points. The new agreements came just a few days after the unions ratified a new contract with the Riviera Hotel & Casino, covering approximately 1,000 workers, and two months after the unions struck a deal with Harrah's Entertainment.

A quarter-percent sales tax hike in Ohio's Cuyahoga County, which will help fund construction of a new convention center in Cleveland, will take effect Oct. 1. Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. proposed to build a "medical mart" in Cleveland, a permanent showcase of medical devices and instruments, but put plans on hold until the city agreed to build a new, complementary convention facility that could attract medical trade shows to the area. Dennis Roche, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland, said that after many false starts to reinvent the city's convention business, the construction of a new center is now a "sure thing." Although the size, cost and location of the combined medical mart and convention center complex are still being discussed, Roche said the mart could be open one year after plans are finalized and the convention center could open two years later. MMPI has estimated that the complex could attract 50 medical trade shows a year, a tremendous boon to the city, considering the Cleveland Convention Center is currently operating at approximately 10 percent occupancy, according to one bureau spokesperson.

Oxford Lodging Advisory & Investment group has bought the five remaining Adam's Mark hotels  in Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Buffalo, N.Y.  from St. Louis-based HBE Corp., the chain's owner. Both the Dallas and Denver hotels will be managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which will convert them to Sheratons before the end of the year. Oxford Lodging said it intends to spend upward of $1 million on a facelift for the 486-room Adam's Mark Buffalo and has not decided whether it, the Indianapolis and the St. Louis properties will retain the Adam's Mark name. The sale, terms of which were not disclosed, is expected to close on Aug. 31 and marks the completion of the chains sell-off, which began in late 2003 when HBE founder and CEO, Fred Kummer, sold half of the then 22-hotel chain, valued at over $1 billion.