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    Untapped business potential key to National Conference Center

    The National Conference Center in Leesburg is one of the area’s largest meeting facilities. File photo
    The National Conference Center was acquired last week for $36.9 million, and LaKota Hotels and Resorts has been contracted to take over the turnaround effort as the large conference center repositions itself to capture more business.

    "Our plan is to really refresh the place, with some new surfaces and dramatic work will be done in the food and beverage phase," said Sam Haigh, president and CEO of LaKota Hotels & Resorts.

    Haigh explains the acquisition as an economic opportunity.

    "The property was acquired at a good price," said Haigh. "The price makes sense when you look at the upside potential."

    By focusing on untapped social business, freshening the center's appearance and grabbing government meetings as they begin to bounce back from a down economy Haigh believes the property is ripe for turnaround.

    Haigh and LaKota believe large wedding parties, bar mitzvahs, award ceremonies and trade shows will help fill in the spaces when corporate and government clients aren't using the facility.

    In order to do this the company plans to invest heavily in sales and marketing efforts in order to expand local business opportunities.

    The biggest opportunity that was not fully realized in the past was the corporate training market, according to Haigh, further explaining that government business was so dominant that it wasn't as necessary as it is now to reach out to that sector.

    The other piece of the puzzle is the West Belmont National Ballroom, which is one of the largest in the country, and has an attached catering service.

    As explained on the LaKota Hotels & Resorts website, "Positioning and operating the properties first as high end hotels and resorts, allows for a much more robust business model, creating additional activity and excitement in the properties, building stronger service teams, and increasing the appeal to senior level conference groups."

    LaKota is taking over the property from longtime facility management company ARAMARK, which had managed the property for 40 years prior.

    Katie Doherty, the current general manager at the National Conference Center, explained that the team has worked on the transition since they learned of the sale in early March.

    "My role is to keep everybody excited about the future," said Doherty.

    Currently there are about 200 full-time employees at the National Conference Center. All except for a few executives, will keep their jobs.

    "Everyone there will continue to have a job," said Haigh. "New ownership should be seamless."

    Haigh said the company may hire new employees as it sees necessary, or as expansion dictates.

    The next major event at the center will be next week's 2014 United States Cybercrime Conference.

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