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Convention business grows

John Seelmeyer

The conventions business is perking up in the Reno area, and suppliers ranging from hotels to sign makers say they’re seeing the benefits.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of major conventions in Reno nearly doubled nine this year, five in the same period a year ago and the trend appears likely to continue.

The effects touch businesses great and small.

The Atlantis Casino Resort across the street from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, for instance, saw occupancy rates near 100 percent during the ordinarily slow first quarter, General Manager John Farahi told investors in the company’s parent company a few days ago.

And those guests paid an average daily rate of $84.57 up nearly $4 from year-earlier figures.

That revenue increase drops almost entirely to the hotel’s bottom line.

The effects are felt, too, in the region’s employment.

Freeman Decorating Co., which handles setup for conventions and trade shows, increases its employment by 10- fold to 250 from a regular staff of 25 when it handles the Safari Club International convention in Reno each year, says Claudia Pierce, manager of the company’s operation in Sparks.

The company’s business in northern Nevada has been flat in recent months, Pierce said, largely because the convention business has included more special events and fewer of the trade shows that are the core of Freeman Decorating’s business.

Another company that specializes in convention and trade-show setup, GES Exposition Services, sees signs that 2004 and beyond will be strong in the Reno convention market.

John LaVoy, general manager of Reno operations for the Las Vegas company, said returning conventions are taking more square footage an indication that they’re growing and GES is fielding inquiries from newcomers to the market.

“All in all, there’s a lot of new groups coming to town that we’ve never seen before,” LaVoy said.

“It looks good for us.”

The effects of the convention business ripple far afield in the community.

Dave Galloway, for instance, owns Instant Sign Center of Nevada a few blocks from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

While convention business isn’t a big piece of the sign center’s traffic, Galloway said it’s been on the uptick lately.

The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority projects that the convention business will remain strong for at least the next year, said spokeswoman Deanna Ashby.

In part, Ashby said, the growth reflects the strengthening national economy.

As business profits grow, so does spending on conventions and business meetings.

RSCVA, meanwhile, has added a sales group that devotes fulltime efforts to prospecting for meetings and convention business.

That’s important, Ashby said, in keeping the region in front of meeting planners.

And the sales efforts are strengthened, she said, by the region’s work to create a brand for itself as “America’s Adventure Place.”

“It says that there is more to do in Reno,” Ashby said.

“We’re not just a gambling town.”

The sales efforts also are boosted, she said, by the availability of better air service to Reno.


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