January 28, 2004

On Jan. 22, the Mississippi Gaming Commission approved plans for the $235 million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi; it will be the first new hotel-casino to open on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1999. Construction begins Feb. 10 on the site of the former Gold Shore Casino and just east of the Beau Rivage Hotel-Casino. The new property will have a 50,000-square-foot gaming barge (Mississippi law requires that all casinos float), a 306-room hotel and a Hard Rock Live nightclub. The complex will open in the third quarter of 2005.

Last week, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission approved a $100 million plan to build a 243-room Conrad Hotel downtown. The deal calls for a $3.75 million investment from the city up front, in return for 8 percent of the luxury hotel's future profits. The Conrad Indianapolis will feature a ballroom, a pool and a fitness center. The Indianapolis City Council still must approve the public funding of the hotel project before construction kicks off, perhaps as soon as March. Belgium-based Conrad Hotels is a division of Hilton best known for its five-star European properties. Conrad also runs the Waldorf Towers Hotel in New York City (which occupies the 28th through 42nd floors of the Waldorf=Astoria) and is finishing a new hotel in Miami.

The first of two town hall meetings planned by the American Society of Association Executives to discuss its proposed consolidation with three other groups takes place tonight in Washington, D.C. ASAE is considering consolidating with the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, the ASAE Foundation and the Center for Association Leadership to create just two organizations: ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership. A second chance for interested parties to sound off about the merger comes Feb. 10 at ASAE's M&T 2004: Learning Exchange and Business Expo in Baltimore. An e-mail address has been established for merger comments at bettertogether@asaenet.org.

The Grande Lakes Orlando resort, which debuted in July, announced this week plans to expand its already considerable meeting space. The resort currently offers 72,000 square feet of function space at the 1,000-room JW Marriott and 33,500 square feet of space at the 584-room Ritz-Carlton hotel. The new $10.5 million Coquina Ballroom will add 35,000 square feet of meeting space to the Marriott when it opens in September.

The Albuquerque Convention Center will be privately run starting Feb. 1, following the signing of a three-year contract with convention center operator SMG, which will be paid $175,000 a year. "Through SMG's contacts in the industry, we will be able to access clients who might not have thought of Albuquerque," said Tom Morton, general manager of the center. The number of conventions is down considerably in the city, with only 10 citywide events booked for 2004 (17 were held in 2003). The center offers 167,562 square feet of exhibit space, a 2,338-seat auditorium, 27 meeting rooms and a 31,000-square-foot ballroom.