Billion Dollar Developments Changing Vegas Landscape

Las Vegas is tearing down its past and replacing it with multi-use urban complexes. When the famed Stardust Resort & Casino was razed in the wee morning hours of March 13, the ensuing smoke and dust were carried away on winds of change. The Stardust was a 50-year symbol of The Strip—the setting of such movies as Casino and Swingers. Its implosion signified a shift in the future landscape of Las Vegas, one marked by vast developments entailing everything from multiple new hotels to retail shopping and residences.

Boyd Gaming is behind the Stardust's replacement. Echelon Place will be built on the same land once occupied by the Stardust, totaling 65 acres and situated across the street from the Wynn Las Vegas. The development is poised to break ground in June and open for business in the second half of 2010 at an all-in cost of more than $4.4 billion. In total, the lodging component will consist of 5,000 guest rooms and suites spread out between five different hotels. One hotel will appropriately be named the Echelon, while another will be an as-yet-to-be-named all-suite property. The remaining three hotels are familiar brands. The Morgans Hotel Group will lend two of its brand names to the development: the Delano Las Vegas and the Mondrian Las Vegas. The last hotel will be a Shangri-La, which is a luxury brand located primarily in Asia and Australia, though it is looking to make a push into the North American market. The Shangri-La Hotel Las Vegas is one of four announced North American projects in the works for the Hong Kong-based operator.

 The fireworks before—and the dust and rubble after—the demolition of the Stardust

Other elements of the mixed-use development include two theaters: one with 4,500 seats and the other with 1,500 seats; a 300,000 square-foot retail promenade; 30 different dining and nightlife venues; 200,000 square feet of pools and gardens; 9,000 parking spaces; and, because the development will abut four streets, seven different arrival points resulting in easier guest access. Of course, what self-respecting Las Vegas development could be built without a casino? Echelon will have 14,000 square feet of casino space. A spokesman for

Echelon Place
stated that partnerships with travel agents would be announced later this year.

Echelon Place has drawn comparisons to the CityCenter project, which is also slated to open in 2010. Moreover, the two massive developments represent the evolution of The Strip. "Las Vegas is famous for reinventing itself," says Erika Pope, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, adding that single properties such as the Venetian and Wynn are also busy adding new towers. "It's the confluence of multi-use development," she says. "Between now and 2010, once again the Vegas Strip is going to transform dramatically; the whole skyline will look different."

Meanwhile, a bit farther off The Strip, but no less removed from the stream of development, land negotiations are underway for a $1.1 billion resort being developed by a group of former Disney and Universal Studios executives. The group, Las Vegas Wet LLC, is angling for a 200-plus-acre site along

Las Vegas Boulevard, south
of The Strip.

When completed, the resort will feature an indoor snow park and an indoor-outdoor water park. Plans also call for two hotels, a casino, a spa, notable restaurants and a multiplex theater. A name for the development is forthcoming, says Las Vegas Wet co-founder Kelly Jo Horton, as well as a new web site that is scheduled to go live within the next few weeks.

Ironically, the land under negotiation is larger than Disneyland in California, which is where Steve Dooner, Las Vegas Wet's other founder, got his start. Dooner spent 30 years in development and operations with such entities as Disney, Universal and Paramount parks. Originally, the plan was to build only a water park, since Wet-N-Wild closed in Las Vegas in 2004. However, when costs became too prohibitive, Dooner brought in some of his former Disney cohorts to come up with ideas to fill out the rest of the development. The resort will have a Disney feel, with characters, bands and other entertainers roaming the grounds. Construction is supposed to begin this spring with a target opening of late 2008 or early 2009. However, those dates will now be revised depending on when the land deal closes.