Vegas Bright photographer Greg C. documents the previous decade on the North Strip and its future prospects.
January 2008….. a decade ago. It was a time of boundless construction activity on the north end of Strip. On one side of the road, crews were knocking down the final sections of the New Frontier hotel in preparation for a new megaresort that was to be based on New York City’s Plaza hotel. Across the way, the gleaming curve of Steve Wynn’s towering Encore resort was topping out. Just to the north of the Frontier lot, a skeletal framework was rising on the site of the imploded Stardust…… the Echelon Place project. And slightly further up, just past the Riviera, a massive superstructure was growing daily….. what was to become the Fontainebleau…..
But, alas, summer of 2008 arrived and with it the Great Recession. On August 1, Boyd Gaming announced that work was to be suspended on the Echelon project indefinitely. The sounds of welding and hammering stuttered to a stop as less-than-happy workers filed off the site. Next door, where the Frontier once stood, dust was blowing across the vacant lot where (it had been envisioned) a vast array of towers should have been rising. The Fontainebleau continued up and up for the remainder of 2008 and into the spring of 2009 to become the tallest structure in Las Vegas besides the Stratosphere. Then, the funds ran out there too…… the great Blue Beast was left a 70%-done shell. Only Encore went on to completion–due to Steve Wynn’s business acumen and his non-reliance on external funding.
The weeks went by….. then months….. then years…….. 2010, 2011, 2012. Carl Icahn scooped up the mothballed Font for pennies on the dollar (148 million for a project that had gulped up over 2 billion) and then sat on it–waiting for the market to ripen. As hope departed, so too did the fixed cranes–too costly to keep paying to rent them while the structures sat idle. In 2013, the dead Echelon Place was purchased by Genting Group (Malaysia) and was slated to become “Resorts World”. Again and again, Genting would offer enticing artist renditions of what was to become a glorious Asian-themed megaresort. But as 2014, 2015 and 2016 rolled by, the only (observable) effort was the completion of a parking structure.
2017 began pretty much as those prior…… a whole lot (empty lots) of nothing. In the sweltering heat of summer, however, things actually started to move. A mobile crane appeared on the Resorts World site…….. then another. At first, they appeared to be doing very little…… just sitting there (yawn). Another publicity stunt? Seemed to be until fall arrived with cooler temperatures and a sudden flurry of REAL activity. Sections of large fixed cranes were delivered on site. These were attached to the long-dead 8-story skeleton of the main tower and rose up quickly. Five of them. This was no “hey! Look at us” photo op. This was a real capital investment of time and money.
Almost simultaneously, across the street at the towering (but equally dead) Fontainebleau site came some long-awaited news. Carl Icahn had finally sold off (flipped) his investment of $148 million to Witkoff & New Valley LLC for $600 million. A nice chunk of change for just sitting on it for 7 years–and a clear demonstration of how fabulously wealthy individuals remain fabulously wealthy. The new players clearly mean business. One does not spend that kind of money to sit around. While visible change has not yet materialized, it can be reasonably expected in the new year.
As 2018 begins to slowly unfold, rays of hope do seem to be shining on the beleaguered North Strip. Despite one bad turn, the “temporary” closing of the casino and restaurants at the small (and hardly 1-year old) Lucky Dragon, other news continues to be good. The deal to purchase the SLS property by Meruelo Group appears to be back on track. Meruelo is an experienced player with successful properties in Reno and is likely to push the failed SLS back toward its Sahara roots. The LVCVA is moving forward to develop the former Riviera site and expand the convention center out to the Strip. Steve Wynn has purchased the empty dirt lot where New Frontier once stood (but has no announced plans as to what he plans for it–yet). These events, combined with the progress on RW and Font, do make the North Strip look to be making a comeback by the 2020s.
[Photo Cred. Greg C.]