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Would Offer Worldwide Video, Communication Links : High-Tech Airport Conference Center Proposed

June 05, 1986|DAVID FERRELL | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles planners are exploring a proposal for a 4,000-seat, multimillion-dollar conference center replete with high-tech video and communications equipment to link business travelers at Los Angeles International Airport with business leaders in Europe, Asia and other parts of the globe.

The revolutionary project, proposed for one of several possible sites near the airport, has won enthusiastic support from business leaders and hotel operators and would be the first of its kind in the United States, according to City Council President Pat Russell.

In an interview Tuesday, Russell described the proposal as an attempt to capitalize on major breakthroughs in telecommunications technology. With computers and satellite hookups, the center would establish audio and video links with similar facilities now opening or being planned in other parts of the world.

Such centers exist in Munich, West Germany, and in Singapore, one hotel operator said. "Two or three other places" in the Pacific Rim trade region also are considering such centers, Russell said.

Transfer of Information

"You can transfer information and discussions without transferring bodies," she said of the concept. "You can transfer so much more information so much more cheaply that it's changing the whole game."

In addition to a 4,000-seat, theater-style main meeting room, the center would offer a series of smaller rooms to accommodate business travelers who cannot find adequate meeting facilities at nearby hotels.

It would be designed to make Los Angeles more attractive to international business travelers, who account for an increasingly large share of the airport's patronage, airport spokesman Lee Nichols said.

"You could sit in front of a big screen and watch images" of other business leaders at other locations around the world, said Bill McCarley, chief legislative analyst for the city. "It would be a center-to-center type of thing."

Study Funds Approved

The City Council voted unanimously last Friday to spend $250,000 to study the probable size, cost and financing for such a project. Results are expected late this year or early next year, McCarley said.

There are several possible sites near the airport, including vacant parcels already owned by the city, but the amount of land needed and their locations may not be discussed until after the concept is studied.

City officials so far have no estimate for the cost of the project. But McCarley said widespread support, improving technology and an increase of international trade in Los Angeles could lead to construction of the center in two or three years if funding is available.

He said possible funding sources include airport revenues and a special business taxing district. The study also will determine whether hotel operators could help finance the center as a joint venture with the city and its independently run Department of Airports, McCarley said.

George Scudder, general manager of the 1,012-room Los Angeles Airport Marriott hotel, said about 20 hotels near the airport, including many of the area's largest, have endorsed the plan as a way to bolster sagging room-occupancy rates.

Slump in Occupancy Rate

Room occupancy rates near the airport have been running between 65% and 75% of capacity, Scudder estimated, in contrast to the 75% to 80% rates that hotels enjoyed five or six years ago. He blamed the decrease on the rapid proliferation of hotels around the airport, but predicted that a major new facility to attract business travelers would help reverse the trend.

"We're one of the major entry points on the Pacific Rim," Scudder said. "This would be an investment in the future."

Scudder and other supporters of the plan cautioned that it would be feasible only if the center did not compete with the larger Los Angeles Convention Center downtown--an issue that is to be addressed as part of the current city study. Scudder predicted, however, that the new center would not divert travelers from the Convention Center, which recently won city approval for a $310-million expansion.

Unlike the Convention Center, the new center would not be geared for large conventions and industry expositions, but would cater to business travelers moving through Los Angeles or staying at hotels near the airport.

'A Convenience'

"It would really be a convenience for people," commented Daniel Teng, executive assistant manager of the 810-room Sheraton Plaza La Reina hotel. "People can stay right here instead of going out in a rental car and facing traffic."

Airport spokesman Nichols said the project could be the next phase in the overall development of the airport. Although such a center has been discussed among hotel and airport officials for several years, attention previously has been placed on traffic improvements in the area.

A recently completed, two-level roadway system for the airport was considered a major step in the airport's growth.

"A lot of companies like to have their (business functions) near airports these days," Nichols said. "It's sort of a worldwide trend. It seems a logical time to take a look at something like this."

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