February 18, 2004

Last week, plans to redevelop New York City's far West Side took a step forward. On Wednesday, city officials unveiled the financing details of its $3.7 billion plan to extend the Number 7 subway line to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and to build apartments, parks and commercial space there. On Thursday, at the annual meeting for NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau, Charles A. Gargano, chairman of Empire State Development Corp., announced the details of the plan to expand the center from 720,000 to 1.5 million square feet of exhibition space and from 25,000 to 235,000 square feet of meeting space. The state's plan, which may cost upwards of $2 billion, includes developing parcels of land from 33rd Street to 42nd Street, including construction of a new hotel on 42nd Street. The development will take place in two phases over the next decade or so. "The governor wants to move as quickly as we can on the Javits," said Gargano.

In an effort to help curb attrition costs for large groups, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering the "Salt Lake Solution," a collaborative program between the CVB, the city's hotels and meeting planners that can result in the waiving of all attrition damages. In order to qualify, the host organization has to agree to three conditions: The group must offer a tiered registration fee (requiring those staying outside the block to pay more than those who register within it); the CVB must serve as the group's exclusive housing bureau; and the bureau must be used to develop customized attendance-promotion campaigns. In return, the planners will get a contractual waiver of attrition charges from host hotels. The CVB has been developing the program for more than a year, said Mark H. White, vice president of sales and marketing, who noted, "We found when we were intimately involved in the process, handling marketing and housing for groups, attrition was not really an issue." The solution is offered mainly for groups of 4,000 or more, but it's worth asking about if your group is slightly smaller, added White.

Last week, U.S. prosecutors charged five people with rigging bids for the $800 million expansion project at Chicago's huge McCormick Place convention center. Federal indictments were handed down to already imprisoned former Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Scott Fawell, his assistant Andrea Coutretsis, Julie Starsiak, a former vice president of Illinois lobbying firm Ronan Potts LLC, as well as James Nagle and Elizabeth Koski, both executives of winning bidder Jacobs Facilities Inc. According to prosecutors, Jacobs lowered its successful bid to act as project manager by $7 million, after insiders at Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (known as McPier) provided copies of competing bids. On Wednesday, despite having already paid Jacobs $2.66 million, McPier fired the St. Louis-based company and announced a second bidding process for a general contractor. "[The authority is] not anticipating any delays in completing the expansion," said a spokesperson for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. "With the 2007 completion date, they've got some extra time built in." The expansion will include 470,000 square feet of exhibition space and 250,000 square feet of meeting rooms, including Chicago's biggest ballroom.

Last week the Pritzker family, 20-year owners of the long-undeveloped South Boston Waterfront land called Fan Pier, announced they will be putting the property on the market in March and are expecting a sale by summer's end. The 21-acre site, which comes with permits for nearly 3 million square feet of development, is expected to sell for around $200 million, according to some observers' estimates. Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, is optimistic about the sale's implications for the neighborhood. "It's been sitting there...with tremendous potential for transforming the Boston Waterfront," he said.

United Airlines' new low-fare service, Ted, debuted last week, flying from Denver to Fort Lauderdale. By the end of next month, the new carrier will offer 52 daily flights, including service to Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Ontario (Calif.), Orlando, Phoenix, Reno, San Francisco and Tampa. Beginning in April, Ted will fly from Washington-Dulles to Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa.

In response to the public's frustration over complicated fares and restrictions, Alaska Airlines last week adopted a simplified fare structure. The change, which dropped the Friday/Saturday-night-stay rule, limited the number of fares in each of the carrier's routes from a high of up to 15 to an average of six. The carrier said instead of a weekend-night stay, the new fares will have either a one-night minimum stay or none at all.