Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2018

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Ferris wheel project hits first snag

Owners of the Algiers hotel-casino have derailed, at least for now, plans to build a giant Ferris wheel on the Strip.

Faced with competing proposals for a small parcel of land at the heart of the gaming district on Las Vegas Boulevard, Clark County commissioners postponed an auction of county land Tuesday. Would-be developers of the 500-foot amusement ride were expected to be the leading bidders for the property at Harmon Avenue.

The commissioners gave county staffers 90 days to study an alternative to simply selling the land: trading the property for land now occupied by the Algiers hotel at Las Vegas and Riviera boulevards.

Chris Kaempfer, attorney for the Algiers, asked that the commissioners consider trading some or all of the county's 2.3 acres at Harmon and Las Vegas Boulevard for 3.6 acres on the Algiers site.

He also pleaded for the commissioners to decide the fate of the Algiers site. The county has planned for at least a decade to run a road realignment of Riviera Boulevard through the property but hasn't definitively said it would build the road.

Meanwhile, the Algiers is in limbo, Kaempfer said, because the uncertainty over the property's future means owners can't further develop the 100-room hotel. The company has plans to build a 1,000-room megaresort on the site.

But Las Vegas-based Outland Development has been in discussion with county staffers for months on a proposal to build a Ferris wheel on the Harmon and Las Vegas Boulevard site, a premium commercial property near the Harley-Davidson Cafe and the Aladdin.

The company had said it would bid on the property. The minimum bid was for more than $21 million -- or about $9.3 million per acre.

The auction had support from three commissioners -- Myrna Williams, Bruce Woodbury and Chip Maxfield. But three commissioners -- Erin Kenny, Dario Herrera and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey -- also supported studying the Algiers proposal.

Commissioners tied on two votes -- the first for a study of the land swap's merits, the second to allow the auction. Consequently, neither side won.

Commissioners Maxfield and Woodbury then switched sides and agreed to a study of the feasibility of the land swap. Only Williams, who had pushed for the auction, voted against the study in the third vote.

But the Ferris wheel proposal isn't dead. Commissioners voted to bring both the auction and the results of the Algiers' study back to them in three months. They can then choose which course to take -- or postpone final action again.

Kaempfer said trading the land would give the county room to move the road while allowing the Algiers company someplace to develop a business on the Strip.

With or without a swap, the key question for the Algiers is an answer to what will happen with the road, Kaempfer said.

"Please, get this off our back," Kaempfer asked the commissioners.

Commissioners agreed it isn't fair to the Algiers to be in limbo, but they aren't convinced that swapping the land is the best answer to the problem.

One potential issue is the relative value of the property. Public Works Director Marty Manning told commissioners that the Algiers property is probably worth about $50 per square foot, while the Harmon and Las Vegas Boulevard is worth about $210 per square foot.

And still outstanding is the issue of whether moving the road south of the Algiers, Riviera Boulevard, through the site is really needed at all.

The study that suggests moving Riviera north through the Algiers property has "no validity," Williams said, because it is a decade old, and traffic patterns have since changed.

Commissioners said they hope to have the answers to those questions for the follow-up meeting, auction or vote.

Kenny, who sparred with Williams over the land deal, said a delay in reaching a decision will only help the county, because the land's value continues to grow.

"Not selling it for a couple of months doesn't harm anyone," she said.

Manning said the outcome of the sales wouldn't affect the related expansion of Harmon Avenue at the site. The county bought the land to build the Harmon expansion but will have about 2.3 acres left over after the road is built.

Harmon should be ready for traffic in June 2002, Manning said.

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