Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2017

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Dominoes are falling into place for Las Vegas’ tourism industry

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Steve Marcus

Pedestrian cross Las Vegas Boulevard Sunday, March 22, 2015. In the background is the uncompleted Echelon casino project. The Maylasia-based Genting Group bought the site and announced plans for Resorts World Las Vegas in March 2013.

Cinco de Mayo doubtless will be a time to celebrate on the Strip, and not just for the obvious reasons.

May 5 is a pivotal point in our city. The groundbreaking of Resorts World Las Vegas is scheduled for that day, more than two years after plans for the resort development were announced. That event will come just as the Riviera closes; the hotel-casino’s final day of operations is May 4, and guests will be shooed from the building by noon.

The arrival of workers at the Resorts World site finally will animate the lot on the Strip where the Stardust once stood and where Boyd Gaming was building Echelon until putting the brakes on the project in August 2008.

Owned by Genting Berhad of Malaysia, Resorts World is to cost $4 billion, have an Asian theme and open with 3,000 rooms in the first phase, scheduled for completion by the end of next year. Plans for the finished complex call for more than 6,000 rooms, with a 4,000-seat theater, an indoor water park and — of course — a panda habitat. (That panda habitat might well join the proposed King Kong elevator that was to creep up the side of the Stratosphere, as grandiose but impractical ideas that sounded great around a boardroom table and maybe even looked wonderful on a rendering. But really? Pandas?)

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Guests relax by the pool at the Riviera Sunday, March 22, 2015. The casino is scheduled to close on May 4 and be demolished to make way for a Las Vegas Convention Center expansion.

The entire complex has been met with a fair and understandable measure of skepticism from experts in resort development. Last October, in a comment I’ll remember always, Steve Wynn said, “I’m really hoping these guys end up with real guts across the street, besides PR chatter. I hope (Genting Berhad chief) KT Lim goes through with his plans to spend $3 or $4 billion in Las Vegas, which requires a high degree of courage … They have my extreme support and best wishes, because anything is better than that empty lot across the street. I just want to see a groundbreaking and them to bring crews on the job.”

As shovels dip to the dirt on the west side of the Strip, the Riviera will be closing for good on Las Vegas Boulevard’s east side after just celebrating its 60th birthday April 20. The hotel likely will be razed in June as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority builds a convention complex with a Strip address.

The two events are unfolding serendipitously, not planned in concert, but they are symbiotic. Resorts World will add several thousand hotel rooms to a city that seems not to need even one more — until you find out the LVCVA expansion likely will boost annual visitor numbers from 41 million to 44 million, while at the same time taking 2,100 rooms at the Riviera out of play.

The Riviera property purchase is at the center of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s $2.3 billion Global Business District expansion. Tourism officials have been anxious about the number of trade shows that have been turned away — including about 30 last year — that now will have a home in Las Vegas. Other conventions plan to expand, thanks to the additional space.

The project appears to be the catalyst for Resorts World’s groundbreaking and could lead to more movement and development on the north end of the Strip. Already, plans are being drawn up for a resort fronted by James Packer of Crown Resorts and ex-Wynn Las Vegas exec Andrew Pascal on the former New Frontier property.

“Our anticipation is we’ll see those projects moving forward,” LVCVA CEO and President Rossi Ralenkotter said the day the convention authority voted to authorize the $193 million purchase of the Riv. “I think other investors will want to be in proximity of 2.5 million to 3 million conventioneers and delegates every year coming through. This will be an economic stimulus for the whole area.”

The renderings of Resorts World and the LVCVA complex certainly are beautiful, but we’ve seen stacks of such grand designs through the years. Though not nearly as splashy and flashy, a sturdy shovel and swinging wrecking ball trump those drawings any day, especially May 5. Now, if Genting Berhad can just hold true to those plans. A lot is riding on what happens that day.

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