Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 | 2 a.m.
The Unification Church has built an events center in Las Vegas that it’s calling “America’s most heavenly place” and “a new beacon of hope,” years after buying the project site and changing plans a number of times — including scrapping a museum dedicated to its late founder, a self-proclaimed messiah.
The International Peace Education Center, across the street from McCarran International Airport, plans to hold a grand opening ceremony Aug. 10 and is aiming to host its first nonchurch-related events next month.
Church leaders held a ribbon-cutting and sanctification ceremony in late May.
The three-story, 93,000-square-foot facility — white, inside and out — will be run by an outside vendor, who hopes to lure local and out-of-town customers for conventions, training seminars, weddings and other gatherings.
Formerly called the Peace Palace, IPEC features white marble flooring, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, conference rooms, a 5,000-square-foot foyer with a fountain and two grand staircases, and 49 hotel-style rooms for lodging, including a four-bedroom suite with private elevator access.
Church founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who died in 2012, launched the project in America’s gambling mecca and directed the site’s purchase, the church says. Known as “True Father” to followers, Moon hoped the facility “would change the reputation of Las Vegas from ‘Sin City’ to a city of educational enlightenment,” according to the church.
“True Father was filled with the vision to make Las Vegas known as a center of God’s love and truth, not as it is now — a city catering to the physical and selfish desires of human beings,” the church says.
Church leaders and IPEC operator Mike Fiorentino are entering a lucrative yet crowded industry. Las Vegas is one of the most popular places in America for meetings and conventions and has an abundance of event space. Almost 5.2 million convention delegates came to town last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The valley has three of the 10 largest convention centers in the country, says Cvent, an events-industry software firm.
The meetings business is clustered on and near the Strip, but Fiorentino figures that plays to his advantage. The founder of New York-based LNF Events, Fiorentino — not a member of the church — says he plans to target convention operators who want to leave the resort corridor for a day to hold events in an “intimate,” noncasino facility; visitors who want to be near Las Vegas Boulevard but not in the thick of it; and locals who want a place to hold a wedding, corporate event or other function.
At 6590 Bermuda Road, IPEC sits among clusters of warehouses and office buildings just south of the airport, a few miles from the south edge of the resort corridor. As Fiorentino sees it, IPEC is detached from “the distractions that may happen over at the Strip.”
Moon founded the Unification Church in 1954 in Seoul. About 20 years earlier when he was a teenager, he claimed, he was praying on a Korean mountaintop when Jesus appeared to him and asked him to create the kingdom of heaven on Earth.
He recruited followers around the world, and the church became known for, among other things, mass weddings with tens of thousands of couples sometimes marrying at once. Moon also built a corporate empire, with real estate holdings, a gun manufacturing business, a ballet company, and newspapers and magazines.
The church is no stranger to Las Vegas. Over the past decade, it has held gatherings at the Aria, the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, the M Resort and other local venues.
It bought the IPEC site in 2011 for $11 million, Clark County records show. The church initially planned to develop a boat-manufacturing facility, Won Mo Boats, alongside a Peace Palace, but the boat plans fell through.
Clark County commissioners in March 2012 approved plans for a convention hall. The project had been expected to finish in early 2013.
But after Moon died in September 2012, “there was a need for a refocusing of the vision God had given to him for the Peace Palace,” Michael Jenkins, director of the church’s Office of Business Investment and Asset Development, told the Sun last spring.
The project underwent a redesign; the church hired new architects, engineers, interior designers and others, general contractor Steven Kwon said last year.
At the time, Jenkins said the facility would host programs and workshops to “strengthen marriage and family” and “help build a safer and more wholesome community.” The building would also be available to outside groups, he said.
Plans also called for a museum dedicated to Moon. Fiorentino, however, said the museum has been nixed. “A lot of the original stuff has changed,” he said.
Meanwhile, IPEC isn’t the only new stand-alone events space in the valley. The roughly 38,000-square-foot Venue Las Vegas — at Fremont and Eighth streets, on the cusp of downtown’s rowdy bar scene — can host proms, weddings and “any corporate request, from an executive retreat to a small conference to a themed, lavish company party,” its website says.
It also plans to have a “swanky lounge” called VirtueVice and space for a comedy club, both on the ground floor, and a rooftop bar and lounge above the second floor.
The Venue is scheduled to hold its first event Aug. 16, said Laura Coronado, spokeswoman for operator the Venues Group.