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County OKs plans for amusement park across from Mandalay Bay

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A rendering of the proposed amusement park across from Mandalay Bay. The plan calls for up seven amusement rides, including a 500-foot “sky wheel.”

Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 4:21 p.m.

Amusement park

KSNV coverage of proposed amusement park on Las Vegas Strip, March 2, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Developers have proposed plans for an amusement park on this 9.6-acre site across from Mandalay Bay. The site is the location of the former Cloud Nine balloon, which closed late last year. Balloon operators were marking their inaugural flight in this Oct. 8, 2009, photo.

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Clark County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously supported a proposed amusement park on the Las Vegas Strip.

Developers hope to build an entertainment and retail district that would include amusement rides on a 9.6-acre site across from Mandalay Bay. Commissioners, sitting as the county Zoning Commission, gave their approval for the project during their regular meeting Wednesday.

The proposal was submitted by Desert Land LLC and Desert Oasis Investments LLC, both of which are controlled by Las Vegas real estate developers David Gaffin and Howard Bulloch. The developers own more than 30 acres across from Mandalay Bay, including the land where the amusement park would be built.

Each county commissioner commended the developers for proposing a unique idea and for trying to bring a family-friendly attraction to the Strip.

“I commend you for thinking like this and trying to provide a venue that will not only bring people from out-of-state, but from out of the country,” County Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager told the developers.

The plan calls for up to seven amusement rides including a 500-foot “sky wheel,” similar to the London Eye, which the developers' attorney, Ed Garcia, called one of the most popular tourist attractions in London.

The wheel would carry 40, 12-by-18-foot gondolas that could accommodate between 20 and 25 guests each. Developers said the gondolas would be offered in several different configurations and could include dining.

The plan also calls for up to six additional amusement rides surrounding the wheel, which developers didn't detail during Wednesday’s meeting.

Developers plan to build the project in two phases with a temporary 200-foot “sky wheel” in the first phase, along with six other amusement rides. Garcia told the commission this is so they could get the project up and running, since the permanent 500-foot wheel would take about 18 months to construct.

Once the 500-foot wheel is constructed, the 200-foot wheel would be removed, along with two other rides to create space for the larger wheel.

Also included in Phase Two, developers hope to build a 21,000-square-foot convention center and a 139,500-square-foot venue for retail, restaurants and live entertainment.

“We know Las Vegas needs a new exciting development, and that’s why we are willing to do this on our very valuable Strip land,” Bulloch told the commissioners.

Bulloch and Gaffin, along with other investors, first acquired land across from Mandalay Bay in 2001. The developers had planned to build a resort development on the land called World Port Resorts that was expected to have a London theme.

A portion of the land was most recently used as the site for the Cloud Nine helium balloon ride, which closed late last year. The land was leased to Cloud Nine Entertainment to operate the ride.

Cloud Nine opened in October 2009 as the world's largest helium-filled, land-tethered balloon, but was plagued with wind issues from the start.

Denny Weddle, a spokesman for the developers, said no groundbreaking date is set, but the project would take about one year of construction. He wouldn’t comment on an estimated cost.

Weddle said the project would staff about 200 construction workers and have about 200 permanent positions once the facility is open.

Bulloch also told commissioners that with the additional land his company owns near the site, there is the potential to add a rollercoaster and other attractions. Those are not included in the current plan.

The commission expressed some concerns about getting foot traffic to the facility, but Bulloch said they would be willing to work with neighboring properties such as Luxor and Mandalay Bay to build a pedestrian walkway across the Strip.

Several Strip casinos such as Circus Circus, New York-New York and Sahara already have amusement rides, but the proposed amusement park could have even more competition. Caesars Entertainment announced last week it is seeking $400 million in financing to complete a retail and entertainment district between the Flamingo and O’Shea's. The project would also include a “sky wheel,” which Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman also described as an attraction similar to the London Eye. No groundbreaking date was announced.

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