Monday, May 22, 2000 | 11:57 a.m.
Hilton Hotels Corp. is eyeing a long-vacant land parcel at the northernmost tip of the Strip for what could be its third time-share development in the Las Vegas area.
Kathy Shepard, spokeswoman for Hilton, said the company has placed a 10-acre land parcel near the Circus Circus hotel-casino under contract. The parcel is part of a 39-acre tract across the street from the Sahara hotel-casino and is owned by Sahara owner Bill Bennett.
The 39 acres, considered an eyesore, is at the busy intersection of the Strip and Sahara Avenue. The area's fortunes are likely to improve with the completion of the second hotel tower at the Stratosphere, the likely El Rancho demolition and Steve Wynn's purchase of the Desert Inn.
At one point the Bennett land was to be developed into a 2,000-room hotel-casino. Bennett signed a deal to sell the land in 1998 to a group headed by Beverly Hills, Calif., developer Barry Schlesinger. The Schlesinger group included Billy Bob Barnett, owner of the Cat's Meow restaurant in New Orleans, and Barnett had plans to incorporate a Billy Bob's Western nightclub into the casino complex.
But these plans fell apart last December, John McManus, general counsel for the Sahara, said.
"There was a failure to get financing by the group putting the project together," McManus said. "It was a very ambitious project, and they were unable to get financing."
In addition to the Hilton parcel, McManus said another 3 acres of the 39-acre site have also been placed under contract, though he would not identify the buyer. Twenty-six acres remain available for sale, he said.
Shepard said the company has no definitive plans for its site at this point.
"We'll review it internally, see if it's something we want to do," Shepard said. "We have no definitive plans at this point."
However, a Las Vegas hotel-casino broker said he's heard the company plans a third time share at the site to be operated by Hilton subsidiary Hilton Grand Vacations Co.
"It was just a matter of time before the major companies came here with the (time share) concept, like Hilton Grand Vacations," said David Atwell, president of Resort Properties of America, a hotel-casino brokerage firm. "It is my understanding that (Hilton) is doing another one on the north end of the Strip.
Hilton plans to make an announcement soon on its plans for the north Strip property, one source said.
Hilton Grand Vacations currently operates the 300-unit Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Flamingo Hilton, and the 16-story, 230-suit Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Las Vegas Hilton, which opened last year.
Hilton is familiar with the Las Vegas market. Its gaming arm was spun off last year as Park Place Entertainment Corp. and now operates the Hilton, Bally's and Paris hotel-casinos in Las Vegas.
One source said Hilton's plans for the third site would be more ambitious -- a 20-story high-rise building with at least 1,250 units.
If Hilton moves forward with such plans, it would be yet another step in a growing time-share boom in Las Vegas. Polo Towers at Harmon Avenue and the Strip is adding an 18-story tower. And Wynn, buyer of the Desert Inn, granted former owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. the right of first refusal to build time shares on the 200-acre property.
It's an industry that Atwell is quite familiar with -- in 1992, he sold the Polo Towers land to its developers.
"It's like subdividing real estate," Atwell said. "You're taking that room, dividing it up and selling it. It's a brilliant concept, and done properly, it can be very profitable.
"The time-share industry has attracted major names ... credible, old-line hotel companies like Hilton and Marriott and Disney, which has upped the standard and the quality of the industry in general."
The properties can also be beneficial to the Las Vegas gaming industry.
A recent study by the American Resort Development Association, a time-share industry association, said time-share owners have visits 89 percent longer than other visitors on average, spend 230 percent more over the course of their trips, and spend 40 percent more per person on gambling.
ARDA estimated their industry's economic impact on Las Vegas was $1.2 billion in 1996.