Tuesday, April 20, 1999 | 11:05 a.m.
Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson said he will sue the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and a group of trade shows over a "conspiracy to steal business from me."
"They're exposing the county to a lawsuit from us for hundreds of millions of dollars," Adelson said Monday. "If they cause us to lose value because of them, we'll sue them for as much as we can."
But LVCVA officials say Adelson's fierce opposition to an expansion of the county's convention facilities funded in part by a consortium of 12 trade shows is nothing more than an attempt to keep disgruntled exhibitors hostage at his own private exposition center.
Adelson also insisted during an interview Monday that the Venetian, his $1.5 billion hotel-casino on the Strip, "will be open very shortly."
"We'll be complete enough to have a soft opening momentarily," he said, denying that construction problems might delay the opening. He said he didn't know whether county building inspectors investigating fire-safety issues were prepared to issue certificates of occupancy necessary to allow the opening.
Spokespeople for the county building department and the Venetian's construction manager, Lehrer McGovern Bovis Inc., said the project has already passed some safety tests.
"They have received temporary certificates of occupancy for numerous places throughout the lower levels and the back of the house," Sam Singer said. "There are inspections scheduled throughout this week for the suites and everything else. They seem to be going well."
County building department spokeswoman Rita Mincavage confirmed today the project has received temporary certificates of occupancy for certain areas, but that inspections are continuing of the casino and the resort's 3,036 suites.
LMB signed a "guaranteed maximum price" contract to build The Venetian. Part of the contract called for LMB to substantially complete the facility by Wednesday or face potential damages beginning at $200,000 a day and rising to $300,000. But Singer said LMB doesn't expect that provision of the contract to come into play.
"At this point, we don't anticipate any liquidated damages," he said. "We are working very closely with the Venetian to satisfy their requirements."
Adelson declined to comment on the possibility of seeking damages from LMB.
But the main thrust of his comments Monday involved the dispute over a plan to help finance a $125 million, 1.3 million-square-foot expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center with $52 million of prepaid rent from a group of convention tenants. And he continued his attacks on LVCVA President Manny Cortez.
Adelson said the expansion plan undercuts his Sands Expo Center by offering discounted rates to consortium members in return for their help in building the LVCVA facility. Trade show operators pay about three times the rate to exhibit at the Sands as they do at the Convention Center.
"Their predatory pricing behavior is against the law, as is tortious interference," Adelson said. "You're not supposed to go after someone else's customers. There are legal remedies for people who try to destroy business relationships.
"The LVCVA has conspired with one or more show managers to achieve the result of taking away our business. Trust me, I know this. The convention authority drafted the terms of the expansion and had proxies solicit the consortium members for them.
"And when we sue the people involved, everyone will run for cover and tell the truth," Adelson said. "And when they start pointing fingers at Manny and he starts pointing fingers at them, it will all come out in court."
"Conspiracy is a really serious threat," countered Cortez, the LVCVA president. "I would caution him on making those kinds of allegations because they're simply not true.
"I can't speak for the trade shows but they might consider suing him for contractual interference. They don't have contracts with him but they do have contracts with us.
"He forgets one simple thing," Cortez said. "These trade shows were coming to the convention center before the Sands Expo Center was built.
"We told them our timetable and they offered to put up the money to help build the facility."
Cortez said LVCVA research indicates Adelson's Sands Expo Center charges the "highest rates in the country" to exhibitors.
"If we don't proceed with the expansion," Cortez said, "I suspect a lot of conventions would opt to go back to using tents on our property or actually leave Las Vegas. Some of them wanted to stay at the Sands, but he ran them out.
"Now he's starting to attack me personally. What I'm concerned with is that in his tirades he at least tells the semblance of the truth.
"Let me emphasize: These people were in the convention center long before they were at The Sands."
Cortez also denied Adelson's charge that the expansion won't lead to an incremental increase in convention business here.
"We've got conventions standing in line to come to Las Vegas. He's got a crackerjack sales team over there at The Sands. All he's got to do is go into the marketplace and sell his space. He doesn't have to sit there with it empty."