Thursday, April 8, 1999 | 4:15 a.m.
It's been 25 years since Las Vegas experimented in the high-rise condominium market, and that venture was something less than a booming success.
Now the city that's sprouting billion-dollar megaresorts is also taking up the high-rise condo craze, pitching pricey penthouses to a wide array of clients from business whiz kids to entertainers and professional athletes.
"It's a giant leap of faith," builder Irwin Molasky said of plans by five companies to build 12 towers that would offer units ranging from $300,000 to $3.85 million.
Molasky should know. One of the city's leading developers, his projects include a hospital, major shopping center, office parks, housing developments and apartment projects.
"The last high-rise condominium here - the Regency Towers - was built 25 years ago," Molasky recalled Tuesday. "It was 226 units and they sold eight of them, then it went into foreclosure. I was one of the eight buyers."
Molasky said he wanted to see the project succeed so he bought the building, fixed it up, and sold out the rest of the units.
Hardly an endorsement for Las Vegas as high-rise heaven.
But that was another Vegas, another time.
Today the area is the fastest growing in America, with some 1.3 million residents and more than 30 million visitors annually. Las Vegas is suddenly facing a condo craze to match its booming hotel market.
The projects include:
-Molasky's Park Towers includes two 20-story towers with 84 units in the Howard Hughes Center, three blocks east of the Strip;
-Florida developer Turnberry Associates plans Turnberry Place, four 38-story towers with 183 units per tower, on land across from the Las Vegas Hilton;
-Developer Bruce Stark of Hawaii-based Stark Properties has announced plans to build twin 56-story towers with 592 units on land east of the Sahara Hotel;
-Taurus Development of Canada plans to start construction in May on Versailles, three 12-story towers with 84 units on the city's west side; and
-Champions of Las Vegas is proposing a 21-story, 844-condominium complex near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. That project, because of extensive infrastructure needs, is said to be at least eight years away.
Molasky is skeptical whether some of the projects will ever be built.
"The market in Las Vegas is unproven," he said. "Nobody know if there's a market or how deep the market is.
"However, it is my feeling that we can educate people to enjoy the benefits of high-rise living, just like they do in Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Miami or New York."
He sees two potential markets: local residents looking to leave their nests for a different lifestyle, and out-of-towners such as business and professional executives, sports figures and entertainers.
Jeffrey Soffer, vice president of Aventura, Fla.-based Turnberry Associates, agrees.
"Las Vegas is a town that is definitely ready for this lifestyle," said Soffer, whose company has been involved in development of more than $1.5 billion in residential and commercial property.
Turnberry is targeting upscale luxury home buyers with an average annual income of $200,000 or greater, and has sold 85 out of 183 units in the first building, with construction set to begin this summer. Units range from $350,000 to $3 million.
Molasky said nearly half of the 84 units at Park Towers are sold.
Kit Schindler, director of marketing, said buyers range from a 23-year-old entrepreneur to "people trying to get serious about tax strategy."
Soffer agrees that Las Vegas is "a good domicile, tax wise."
Nevada has no corporate tax or state income tax.
"We hope to get some high profile entertainers and athletes who want to take advantage of our special tax incentives," Molasky said.
Construction on Park Towers is expected to start within 60 days, he said.
Prices at Park Towers range from $720,000 for a 2,200-square-foot "baby unit" to $3.85 million for a two-story, 9,400-square-foot penthouse that wraps around the top of the building.
Developers expect to solicit some foreign business, but believe there is enough potential in the United States alone.
"Everybody's got Las Vegas on their radar screen," Schindler said.