Monday, Nov. 5, 2001 | 9:49 a.m.
If it weren't for Binky the Clown's toes and a wedding chapel across the Las Vegas Strip, Clark County commissioners might not be faced with a multimillion dollar land decision Tuesday.
At least that's what Public Works officials contend.
Commissioners will decide whether to support Algiers Hotel owner Larry Kifer's independent appraisers, who claim his 3.55 acres at Riviera Boulevard and the Strip are worth $27 million.
The appraisals conducted by Tami Campa and Keith Harper say the value of the land is more than three times higher than the county's appraisals.
The private appraisals were based on future development -- including Steve Wynn's conversion of the old Desert Inn hotel into Le Reve -- on the northern section of the Strip.
"It is our opinion that once Steve Wynn breaks ground, land prices around this portion of the north Strip will escalate dramatically," Campa wrote in her report.
Kifer and his attorney Chris Kaempfer hope to swap the Algiers property for a prime county-owned 2.4-acre piece tucked next to the Aladdin at Harmon and Las Vegas Boulevard.
County officials have balked at the independent appraisers' figures, saying the land is worth only $8 million and is not a fair trade for the Harmon property, which is worth at least $21 million.
Public Works spokesman Bobby Shelton said the county's appraisal was based on fair market value today, adding "we don't do speculative appraisals."
Kifer wants to get rid of his property, because he claims it has been "frozen" for a decade, since Clark County proposed dissecting the land with the realignment of Riviera Boulevard to smooth traffic flow across the Strip.
Shelton, however, said the realignment plans were simply listed in a feasibility study and were never concrete.
Three years ago Public Works engineers suggested "evening out" the Riviera-Strip intersection by cutting corners on the southwest and northeast sides, Shelton said. But Circus-Circus representatives said the roadwork would have nipped off the toes of their famous clown, and Kifer didn't want to lose his wedding chapel, he said.
If the county had sliced Riviera through the Strip diagonally by cutting the corners, Kifer's property wouldn't be threatened and there would not be a land fight, Shelton said.
But Kaempfer said the realignment proposal listed in the county's traffic plan derailed Kifer's strategy to join the megaresort boom by building a 1,087-room, 38-story hotel and time-share he planned to call Grand Prix Casino Hotel.
"This has had chilling effects on the development and salability of the subject site," Campa wrote in her report, backing Kaempfer's assessment.
Kaempfer said the county is using the assessed value of the Algiers land rather than fair market values when determining its worth. He pointed to the county's purchase of the Harmon property -- which it needed for a road realignment -- for $36 million. The assessed value of the land was only $4 million, Kaempfer said.
Campa and Harper list the price per square foot of other Strip properties recently sold. The figures noted by Campa, who valued the Algiers property at $175 per square foot, ranged from about $90 per square foot to $150 per square foot.
Harper's report also lists two unsolicited offers Kifer received for his land last year: Turnberry Associates offered $30 million and CVS Pharmacies offered $22 million.
But in a report to the commission, public works officials said the appraisers failed to list the most recent sale prices of land directly surrounding the Algiers site. For example, the El Rancho Hotel land sold for $49 a square foot, a 10-acre vacant parcel across the street went for $44.80 and a 3-acre vacant piece also across the street from the Algiers sold for $38.26 acres.
"The appraisals conspicuously excluded three recent comparable sales clustered around the subject property," the county report says.
Kifer's appraisers said the Algiers' 3.55 acres is more valuable, because it's only one of four parcels available on the Strip that is large enough to accommodate a megaresort.
In addition, the appraisers are banking on Wynn's property to boost land value on the northern Strip, so that they're comparable with figures in the center portion, near Bellagio, Venetian and Aladdin.
Le Reve will be a 2,455-room megaresort with a 4-acre manmade lake. Wynn has said he expects his newest venture to compete for high-end customers with Bellagio.
Campa said that when Wynn purchased the Desert Inn, for which he paid about $90 per square foot, he noted the location between two major convention centers as a primary advantage.
Commissioners have been lobbied by Kifer's representatives, including Kaempfer, a major campaign contributor. With six board members expected to be present -- Yvonne Atkinson Gates will be absent -- the vote could be a tie.
County officials plan to ask the board for another appraisal before a decision is made. In July commissioners were set to auction the Harmon piece before Kifer approached the board with his land-swap proposal.