What An Expanded Convention Center Could Mean for the City of Angels

Massive Mixed-Use Project Scheduled to Open in 2019

A proposed $1.2 billion expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center, that would include an expansion of the JW Marriott Los Angeles LA Live, could soon be on deck – and many say it is long overdue.

The project would be coordinated through a public-private partnership between Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which runs the convention center at 1201 S. Figueroa St., and the city of Los Angeles, according to AEG.

It would consist of a $500 million expansion and renovation of the Convention Center, including 90,000 to 100,000 square feet of new, multi-purpose space, 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of meeting space and a new 180,000- to 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

The proposal includes a $700 million expansion project at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE at 900 W. Olympic Blvd., which would include an addition of 850 rooms, 109,700 square feet of meeting space and a 51,300-square-foot ballroom, according to a project rendering.

The LA Live Way parking garage would also be expanded, and there would be a new entry to the hotel on Georgia Street. Gilbert Lindsay Plaza would be developed into green space, according to Jessica Lall, president and CEO of the Central City Association.

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, in whose district the Convention Center resides, said he is encouraged by AEG’s latest proposal.

“While other major cities have excess of 15,000 rooms, the city of Los Angeles has less than 4,000 rooms within walking distance to the convention center, making us far less competitive because large conventions need the rooms for the attendees,” Price said. “Placing an on-site hotel will make L.A. more attractive for major conventions, create more jobs and provide much needed revenue for the city.”

Ellen Riotto, executive director of the South Park Business Improvement District, calls an expansion “absolutely necessary” now.

“Every year that we do not invest in this expansion, the city loses out on $1 billion of revenue,” Riotto said.

The 1.2 million-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified convention center was built 47 years ago, according to CoStar data.
There has not been an expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center since 1997, according to AEG.
Comparing the convention center to others in Southern California boosts the argument that an expansion is necessary, Bob Sonnenblick, chairman of Sonnenblick Development LLC, said.

“The lesson that we learned from the numerous expansions of the San Diego Convention Center was that each time they increased the size of the center, they increased the number of conventions that then booked there,” Sonnenblick said. “Similarly, each time they increased the size of the convention center, they increased the demand for more hotel rooms. There is a 100-percent, direct correlation between these things.”

The 1.76 million-square-foot San Diego Convention Center was last renovated in 2001, according to CoStar data. There are now efforts being made to raise money for a fall ballot initiative in San Diego that would raise hotel room taxes to pay for an expansion of the convention center and help fund homeless programs.

“Finally being able to compete with San Diego and Anaheim will be a huge win for not only downtown L.A. but the region as a whole,” Riotto said.

The Anaheim Convention Center debuted its $190 million expansion last September. It added 200,000 square feet of flexible space, according to Mike Lyster, chief communications officer for the city of Anaheim. That convention center now takes up more than 1 million square feet.

“We needed a newer kind of space that more professional groups are looking for,” Lyster said. “They’re looking for a more flexible type of space.”

As a result, organizations can now host breakout sessions, galas and trade shows all under one roof, according to Lyster. Anaheim, which also benefits from having Disneyland as a tourist draw, is already seeing the payoff.

The Anaheim Convention Center’s biggest convention, NAAM, or the National Association of Music Merchants, had outgrown the convention center’s old space, Lyster said.

In January of this year, NAMM’s attendance was 115,085, up 7.5 percent from January 2017 before the expansion, according to Lyster. Also in the first month of this year, there was an $89.4 million economic impact on Anaheim which Lyster largely attributes to the NAMM convention.

The new space is allowing the convention center to keep its current shows and attract new ones. The American Heart Association, which hadn’t held its Scientific Sessions meeting in Anaheim in 16 years, returned last November, drawing 18,000 attendees, Lyster said.

Lall said Los Angeles, which has already seen “record breaking tourism numbers in recent years,” could experience the same type of boost to the local convention and tourism industry as a result of the collaboration between AEG and the city.

Nick Griffin, vice president of economic development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said its impact could also have international repercussions.

“As AEG has made clear, this is not just about competing with San Diego and San Francisco for conventions, it’s about creating an unrivaled destination that encompasses not just the convention center, but the entire Staples / L.A. Live complex and all of the surrounding development – hotels, retail and residential – into a sports and entertainment district that will be the envy of cities around the world,” Griffin said.

The proposed project could be completed as early as 2021.