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Look Out Omaha, L.A.'s Coming After Your Conventions

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010, at 02:56PM
JW Marriott LA Live Eric Richardson [Flickr]

A long corridor connects the JW Marriott L.A. Live to its ballrooms, part of the 100,000 square feet of meeting space inside the facility. That hotel is already helping lift Los Angeles' historically poor convention bookings.

For being the nation's second-largest city, Los Angeles has historically struggled when it comes to convention business. In a recent ranking of conventions booked, the city placed 27th. Omaha, Nebraska, placed 26th.

"We used to get our ass kicked by Omaha," said AEG CEO Tim Leiweke during a January event.

The words "used to" are important. If you believe the speeches, the city's fortunes are changing thanks in no small part to AEG's L.A. Live entertainment complex and the 878-room JW Marriott that opened yesterday.

"You are witnessing an industry that will experience a 300% growth with the opening of this hotel," said AEG CEO Tim Leiweke during a ribbon cutting held this morning. "This city now will act like it should, the second-largest city in the United States and the best place to bring events and conventions anywhere in North America."

The city managed to compile its poor record in spite of its renowned weather. "This is the middle of the winter," noted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "No snowstorm here, everybody!"

Los Angeles will get its chance to really sell itself this August, when the American Society of Association Executives. "This convention ... is really the Super Bowl of conventions," said Mark Lieberman, head of LA Inc, the Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're going to bring together 16,000 meeting planners here to Los Angeles to see what has been created. These are the decision makers."

Lieberman celebrated the fact that he no longer has to tell customers that the convention center hotel is coming. "Here we are today and it really has," he said.

The hotel opened its doors on Monday at 10am, welcoming guests from the concert industry's Pollstar Live event. It also opened the doors to its restaurant, the Kerry Simon-helmed LA Market, and three bars. All were packed Monday evening, with even more of a rush expected this evening as Staples Center hosts a Lakers game.

Opening on March 15 is the Ritz Carlton hotel that sits atop the JW Marriott. Its 123 rooms are on floors 22 through 26 of the 54-story structure. The remaining floors will house the 224-unit Residences at the Ritz Carlton, which will open later this spring.

The combined product creates one large building. The tower cost roughly $1 billion to construct.

"Can you believe this?" asked KTLA's Stan Chambers, master of ceremonies for this morning's event. "When I started, you could only build 13-floor hotels." Who better than Chambers to ask about Downtown? Before starting his career with KTLA in 1947, Chambers worked Downtown at both the Desmond's and Silverwood's department stores. "I look above me and we've got plenty more than 13."


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