Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1999 | 11:37 a.m.
After years of spreading relentlessly outward, Las Vegas has discovered a new direction -- upward.
Scan the skyline, and in addition to cranes, blimps -- even the Eiffel Tower -- you'll notice several new high-rise buildings creeping their way towards the heavens.
Long the domain of those at the Country Club's 28-story Regency Towers and a strip of apartment buildings along and between East Desert Inn and Flamingo roads, new high-rise residences on the horizon include: the 20-story Park Towers in the Howard Hughes Center; the 38-story Turnberry Place across from the Hilton Hotel; and the 12-story Versailles condominium complex adjacent to the Badlands golf course in Summerlin.
That's not to mention the Great Masters, two 56-story towers proposed for the corner of Paradise Road and Karen Avenue, the Hilton's 18-story time shares going up adjacent to its casino, and the 18-story buildings the County Commission just approved in Summerlin.
And while the vast majority of the Las Vegas valley's growth is expected to adhere to outward bound urban sprawl, this trend is also to be expected: When land becomes scarce and pricy, developers not only grow out -- but grow up.
"What's happened is as the city grew outward more and more, land has become more expensive, and traffic has developed, and we've created a monster," notes developer Irwin Molasky, whose projects have included the Bank of America building, the Boulevard mall, La Costa Spa in Southern California, and now the $100 million Park Towers.
"Extending the infrastructure for miles and miles becomes too expensive in a lot of ways," agrees John E. Riordan, sales manager of Turnberry Place, a $600 million, four-tower condominium going up on 15 acres at Paradise Road and Riviera Boulevard. "(It increases) air pollution, water quality, traffic congestion."
"The next place you can go is up," Richard Lee, director of public relations for First American Title of Nevada, says. "More projects are looked at vertically than they used to be."
UNLV Assistant Professor of Architecture Mark Hoversten says he generally approves of the move upwards in the high density areas.
"There are a lot of land-use reasons for encouraging higher land use zones," he says. "It makes commuting with some kind of public transportation more viable, it makes for living close to employment centers. It makes a whole lot of sense."
And Lee predicts that these types of structures will become a permanent part of the residential development in Las Vegas.
"Nobody knew for sure we had a need," Lee notes. "Now that we have four projects ready to come out of the ground, it seems to be there's been a pent-up demand for it."
"This is a part of the housing market that hasn't been satisfied in the past," Riordan concurs. "There are people we have already sold to that never would have lived in Las Vegas if this type of product wasn't available. We think the market is a lot bigger than anybody thinks it it."
Barbara Kaplan, who lived in a similar condo development in Florida 20 years ago, says she has been waiting years for something such as Turnberry to come to Las Vegas -- and still has a two-year wait until it opens in December 2000. "I think Vegas is very slow and backward," she laments. "This should have been here a long time ago. Everything comes here late."
'City has matured'
Of course, high rise apartment dwellers have existed for years in Las Vegas.
At the 12-story Country Club Towers, assistant manager Jackie Pariseau notes that some residents have been there since the building opened 25 years ago.
"Most are professionals and they come from cities like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, and are used to high rise living," she notes. "They prefer that lifestyle."
The typical high-rise target market is primarily empty-nesters ending the work and family cycle, and those who don't want the hassle of large homes, long drives and maintenance headaches.
"(A house) is an anchor, it keeps you being as free as you might want," Kit Schindler, director of marketing for Park Towers, says. "To some, it becomes obvious that what (they) need is a more convenient lifestyle."
That's why Kaplan and her family are trading in their Green Valley home of 12 years. "Some like a big home," she says. "I've had it for 12 years -- I'm done. I'm sick of it, I have this huge home that is never used, why keep it? Who needs the extra space and upkeep?"
These new luxury condos have a slightly different market target than apartment buildings, aiming specifically at the high-end user. Prices at Turnberry range from $350,000 to $6 million for 1,500- to-11,000 square feet units; at Park Towers, it ranges from $720,000 to $4 million for 2,100 to nearly 5,400 square feet units; and at Versailles, it goes from $1.1 million to $7.7 million for 3,000- to-13,000 square feet units.
"The city has matured to where that kind of product works," Lee says. "We are (now) creating wealth in the city itself. We're creating wealth in which a service-oriented environment is more in demand. The baby boomers have created wealth and are demanding a service."
For the wealthy coming from out of state, the tax-free climate is an additional draw.
"Nevada is a great place to have an address if you want to save more of what's yours," Schindler notes. "We promote it in our national advertising. For people of means, that can be a tremendous savings."
But will this new high-priced condo market ever come to a low-rent price?
Like a Prada or Gucci knock-off, Molasky predicts that high-rise buildings at more moderate pricing structures someday may be available in Las Vegas.
"I don't think you'll ever get anything down to $100,000," he says, "but I do think you'll find $250,000 to $600,000 housing in this environment for something you'd like to live in."
But those won't be able to offer the hotel-style amenities like these, which include valet parking, room service, 24-hour doormen, porters and limousine service, as well as European-style spas, wine cellars, libraries, dining rooms and gourmet grocery stores.
"They have everything, as if they were staying at the Bellagio," Riordan says. "People may come here and not leave for days at a time, and be totally entertained."
Developers say the convenience factor is another main consideration for buyers tired of driving to the suburbs.
"We're five minutes from airport," Riordan says. "We're so convenient to fine shopping and dining in town. They don't need a car here, they could walk to a lot of things or take a cab."
The hotel-like amenities are what drew Tim Poster to the Turnberry property.
"With the high-rise, everything is taken care of, it's a worry-free thing," he says. "It's kind of like a hotel, where all your needs are taken care of. The convenience of the whole thing is what appeals to me. It fits my lifestyle very well."
The bachelor's two Internet travel companies cause him to be on the road much of the year, so trading in his house in Summerlin for a 10th-floor bachelor pad makes sense.
"I have a house now with a yard and a pool that I rarely use," he says, calling from the Four Seasons hotel in New York City. "It's more of a bother than anything else."
Abbott Elkind, owner of Swiss Services of Nevada, a firm that constructs casino interiors, bought a three-bedroom condo on the 31st floor for himself and his girlfriend for the various amenities and the high quality of the building.
"I do this for a living," he notes. "I know what they're putting in, so I know the quality of the work."
For Betty Weider, who purchased a 38th floor penthouse apartment at Turnberry Place and was also shopping at the Park Towers, the view was a key selling point.
"I like that I'm really high up, on the 38th floor, so I'm going to have a gorgeous view," Weider says. "I'll see all the red rocks and mountains, and the Strip, so I'll get the best of both worlds."
Weider said she has also purchased a two-bedroom apartment on the 28th floor of Turnberry for friends and guests. "I think the (view from the) 28th floor will be pretty good, too," she says with a smile.
But not all high-rise buyers want the top floor.
"There are people who are phobic about heights," Schindler says. "A lot have no interest about being up high. They're not interested in paying for it, they want the lifestyle, the address, the amenities. They want everything everyone has at the top -- but are paying three times the price."
Kaplan, who opted for a fifth floor residence at Turnberry, is one of the vertigo-inflicted people.
"I'm not great on heights," she admits. "I said I can't do it, I can't look down. For me, the lower the better. The fifth floor is fine."
So far, condo sales have been brisk. Park Towers, with only 84 units, says it is already 30 to 40 percent sold out. The 750-unit Turnberry Place says it has sold 75 of its first tower's 183 units in about as many days, at the rate of one day.
"They're selling to a rate that is very impressive," notes Dennis Smith of Home Builders Research, comparing the sales rate to houses in new developments. "They're doing extremely well."
"I've never been in a situation where people didn't even need to visit the property (to buy)," Riordan, a 25-year real estate veteran, says. "That accents the demand and the lack of supply."
The new buildings may pose trouble for the established, 27-year-old Regency Towers, which has already seen buyers defecting to the new projects. (Calls to Regency management seeking comment were not returned.)
"If you're sitting on an old idea, if you're still doing high rise the way you used to do it, you're in trouble," Lee says. "New blood, new money and new competition is coming to town, and they're going to clean your clock."
But whether the market will be saturated remains to be seen. The Grand Masters project already announced it would scale back from three towers to two.
When asked whether the prospect of others having the same idea reassures or concerns them, the developers have differing responses.
"Both. It concerns and reassures me," Molasky notes. "It's probably good for us, that people will be aware of that kind of living. Las Vegans will become educated to this."
"Neither," Riordan replies. "Our decision had nothing to do with that there was anyone else contemplating it. We would be doing this regardless, and think our product will stand on its own no matter how many people are doing it as well."
Both can agree on one thing: The trend will probably continue.
"The future of Las Vegas is going to be buildings like this," Molasky says. "I believe there will be a lot more ... high-rise living in Las Vegas in the next 10 to 15 years. Today, it's difficult for people to see that. But (one day) you're going to look around and say, 'look at all these great, tall buildings.' "