Thursday, Aug. 23, 2001 | 11:10 a.m.
Steve Wynn has formally revealed plans for the resort that will mark his return to the Las Vegas Strip -- a 45-story, 2,455-room, 514-foot golden glass tower, complete with a four-acre lake, rising above Las Vegas Boulevard.
The plans, which depict a resort that makes liberal use of skylights, gardens and water, were filed with the Clark County Planning Commission recently, and that agency will consider Wynn's proposal tonight. The commission staff has recommended approval of the plans.
"This resort will redefine, once again, the luxurious megaresort in Las Vegas," wrote DeRuyter Butler, executive vice president-architecture for Butler Ashworth Architects Ltd., in a letter to the commission staff.
Wynn could not be reached for comment. He is scheduled to speak on the morning of Friday, Oct. 19, at the World Gaming Congress & Expo.
Wynn was expected to unveil his plans for the resort at that time. However, spokesman Billy Vassiliadis said today that isn't going to happen.
"He is going to make some pretty significant announcements, and at this point, he believes he's got some very unique concepts that he doesn't want to share with his competitors," Vassiliadis said. "I don't believe there will be anything of real detail any time soon."
If Wynn's plans are approved by the planning commission, he would have one year to begin construction of the resort. The planning commission could also hold the application for further study or deny it outright. Even with approval, the plans would still have to be approved separately by the Clark County Building Department.
Under a best-case scenario, a project like Wynn's can be completed "a couple of years" after plans are approved, said Al Laird, a planner with the Clark County Planning Commission who handled the Wynn application.
That, however, would require Wynn to do something he rarely does -- stick to his original plans.
"Usually with projects of this size, they decide to make changes on what they proposed," Laird said. "It takes time to go back and make changes. On most of these hotels, they come back one or two times."
The timing could not be more critical for Las Vegas. Since the last wave of Strip expansion ended in August 2000, Las Vegas visitor growth -- and consequently, growth in gaming win -- has slowed considerably.
That was the situation in 1989, but Wynn sparked a new wave of expansion when he built and opened the Mirage. A second boom followed after Wynn opened the $1.6 billion Bellagio in 1998. In an environment of sluggish growth, that history raises hopes Wynn will be able to trigger yet another boom in Las Vegas.
"I would say everyone in town is rooting for him," said Andrew Zarnett, gaming analyst for Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown. "It's essential that Las Vegas have a (new wave of development) to grow visitation in that city. There's a little malaise in visitation. What Las Vegas needs is to have the excitement of that next wave of development, and Steve Wynn is certainly the leader in that regard."
It would be particularly good news for the north end of the Strip, which has largely been left out of the development of the last decade -- and has struggled as a result.
Wynn's newest resort will include a 120,000-square-foot casino, 15 restaurants and entertainment venues, 70,000 square-feet of retail space, 132,000 square feet of convention space, showrooms of 1,500 and 2,000 seats, two wedding chapels, a luxury spa and a massive three-acre pool deck.
Wynn also plans, at least for now, to keep the Desert Inn's famed golf course intact, according to the plans on file. But the working name of the project -- "Wynn Resort A" -- suggests this hotel-casino will not be the last Wynn builds on the 200-acre Desert Inn land parcel.
The project borrows many elements that were used with success at the Bellagio, the last Strip resort Wynn designed. Its four-acre lake, located directly on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sands Avenue, is roughly half the size of the Bellagio's. In front of the lake, directly at the intersection's corner, stands a 44-foot fountain.
This lake is designed "to emphasize the resort atmosphere and create the proper resort setting," Butler wrote. Restaurants line the southern bank, and the resort's main porte cochere and entrance jut out into the lake from the northern bank. Underneath the 92-foot-high porte cochere is a 736-square-foot "water feature," though the plans provide no details.
Unfortunately for Strip gawkers, there will not be a repeat of the Bellagio's fountain show or Treasure Island's pirate battle in this lake, Butler said. However, "a small water ballet located adjacent to the waterfront dining patios is planned," Butler wrote.
This resort will also include an art gallery. "Wynn Gallery," spanning 1,316 square feet, will be temporarily housed in the St. Andrews Tower, which is one of the Desert Inn's existing buildings. This building is located just north of the planned site for Wynn's new resort.
"Limited public displays of Mr. Wynn's collection is expected," wrote Glen Ashworth, director of architecture for Wynn Design and Development, in a letter to the planning commission.
Wynn owned about $200 million of the $400 million art collection that was housed in the Bellagio at its 1998 opening. When MGM Grand Inc. acquired the Bellagio as part of its 2000 takeover of Mirage Resorts Inc., it promptly began selling off the $200 million in art owned directly by the company. Wynn removed the artwork he had been leasing to the Bellagio.
The St. Andrews Tower, along with the Palms Tower and the Desert Inn's luxury villas, will remain a part of the resort complex. Plans call for the conversion of the three buildings into temporary office space.
The new resort will sit where the remainder of the Desert Inn's buildings now stand. These buildings are now in the process of being demolished without explosives.
Wynn Resorts has applied for a permit from Clark County to implode the high-rise Augusta Tower, the southernmost of the Desert Inn buildings, said Rita Mincavage, spokeswoman with the Clark County Building Department. However, the license won't be issued until other county agencies have given their approval. Mincavage said the department does not yet have an exact date for the implosion.
"All I've ever heard is sometime in October," Mincavage said.
Vassilidais confirmed that the implosion will occur in October, but did not have a specific date.
When those buildings are gone, in their place will rise a 45-story, 514-foot tower, which would be just a few feet below the 525-foot-high New York-New York. The Palms, set to open in December on Flamingo Road, is 42 stories high; the Rio is 41 stories.
The building, however, is not a three-pronged hotel tower, a form Wynn popularized on the Strip with the Mirage.
"The plans show just a single, roughly rectangular tower," Laird said. "It's built more on a curve, a really wide arch."
In room count, it will be roughly the same size as Caesars Palace. In appearance, its gold glass facade will be somewhat similar to Wynn's first Strip creation -- the Mirage -- and the more recent Mandalay Bay.
But the resort's Strip frontage doesn't look like anything the Strip has seen before.
Pedestrians coming over foot bridges from the Venetian or Fashion Show Mall will be deposited on a plaza centered around a 44-foot-high fountain. Looking across the lake, they will see a resort that has a decidedly modernistic look to it, incorporating stone, glass and metal. Curving around the front driveway and porte cochere is a long waterfall spilling over stone piers. An entrance into the resort's retail promenade will be located on this plaza. A second porte cochere and entrance is available for drivers turning in from Sands Avenue.
At the north end of the resort is a 1,500-seat showroom. Shades of the Bellagio and its "O" Show return with the nearby "Aqua Theatre," a 2,000-seat circular showroom surrounding a pool.
In all, it's believed this project will cost $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion, though the plans on file with the planning commission do not discuss a price.
To pay for this, Wynn has lined up a 50 percent equity partner -- Aruze Corp., a Japanese manufacturer of pachinko gaming machines -- which will invest $260 million. Wall Street sources indicated in July that Wynn was in talks with several major banks to line up $700 million to $800 million in bank financing; those sources said Wednesday there hasn't been any activity since then.
While Wynn in the past has tapped the junk bond and stock equity markets to build casino resorts, he appears to be more interested in bank financing -- which has fewer disclosure conditions -- this time, a Wall Street source said.
Though financing for new Strip casinos is becoming more difficult to find, Wynn shouldn't encounter any difficulties, Zarnett said.
"His properties have been at the leading front of every wave of new development in Las Vegas since the Mirage opened in 1989," Zarnett said. "The success of the properties are well documented in terms of (cash flow) performance. So that allows him to lead the way."
One lingering hurdle for Wynn is the status of his partner, Aruze. In November, Aruze was charged by the Tokyo Regional Tax Bureau with tax evasion, which assessed a fine of 1.7 billion yen ($14.9 million).
That decision is now being appealed by Aruze. And all the Nevada Gaming Control Board can do is watch, since Aruze and Wynn Resorts have not filed for a gaming license. But the board is watching closely, as the collection of gaming taxes is the primary concern of that agency.
"I haven't heard anything recently on it," said Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander.
The tax troubles have prompted speculation that Wynn would look for a new equity partner. But when Reuters News Service reported in May that Wynn was looking to do just that, Wynn quickly denied it.
"(The Japanese investigation) involves civil arguments and should have no bearing whatsoever on the suitability of doing business in Nevada, any more than any other civil argument," Wynn told Reuters in May. "We have no intention of replacing Mr. (Kazuo) Okada (chairman and controlling shareholder of Aruze)."
Wynn and Okada have time for that issue to be resolved before they have to approach the control board. In cases where an existing or previous licensee is applying for a new license for a resort, a license application is usually filed nine months to a year before opening, Neilander said. If it involves a company that hasn't been previously licensed, or a particularly large company, the process may take more than a year, he said.
"But it's not like we don't know (Aruze)," Neilander said.
That familiarity came last year, when Okada attempted to sell Las Vegas-based Universal Distributing of Nevada -- a largely inactive company Okada owns -- to Aruze.
The September 2000 hearing was a bizarre one, marked by difficulties in communication between board members and Okada. Board members were primarily concerned about a series of transactions funnelled through UDN that boosted UDN's balance sheet from a $40 million in the red to $18 million in the black. This enabled Okada to get more for the sale of UDN to Aruze, and this wasn't lost of Steve DuCharme, then chairman of the control board.
"These are transactions that are foreign to us ... they might smack of insider trading here," DuCharme said.
Board members were able to make little headway during the September hearing, and the matter was referred back to the control board staff. To date, Neilander said that application has not been resurrected.