Friday, Aug. 20, 2004 | 10:54 a.m.
A pair of Australians who are new to Las Vegas are proposing to build one of the world's tallest residential towers -- featuring a $35 million penthouse -- on the southern gateway to downtown at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Victor Altomare and Joseph Di Mauro announced plans Thursday to build a 940-foot, 73-story, high-rise condominium tower on the Las Vegas Strip at Sahara Avenue across Sahara from the Sahara hotel-casino.
The tower would be at the site of the former Holy Cow! casino, which Di Mauro said would be demolished. The developers are now in escrow for the 2.17-acre parcel, officials with KSK Property Management said.
A spokeswoman for KSK Property Management said her company is representing the land owner in the deal. Clark County records show the owner to be Rinkai America Inc., Las Vegas, headed by Kazumi Ohga.
Because of its height, and like the Stratosphere, the project may be reviewed to see if it obstructs airspace to and from McCarran International Airport. One route for McCarran traffic using the north-south runway is over the Paradise Road area, just southeast of the Stratosphere.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles said it's too early to determine whether the Summit project would result in any airspace obstruction issues.
Donn Walker said developers normally submit plans for review by FAA obstruction evaluators who make recommendations to the government entities that make the final decisions on developments. Walker said he had not heard about the project.
Walker said the government entity -- the city of Las Vegas, in this case -- could authorize a project even if the FAA finds that the building represents an airspace hazard, "but the city would be setting itself up for liability problems and it would be unlikely that the developer could get insurance for the building."
The project still needs final approval from the city of Las Vegas.
He said just because the site of the project would be across the street and just up the block from the taller Stratosphere Tower doesn't mean the Summit would automatically get a positive recommendation from the FAA.
"There's a complex set of calculations that our obstruction evaluators run on projects like this," Walker said. "It's mind-boggling, they use all sorts of algorithms and calculus in their analyses. I've seen cases in which a building is a quarter-mile away from an airport and 30 stories tall being OK 15 years ago, but a building only 20 stories tall, but farther away being problematic. It's unique to where the building sits."
Randy Walker, director of the Clark County Aviation Department, said he too had not heard of the project and didn't know if it would cause an airspace obstruction.
When asked to describe their past developments, Di Mauro declined comment.
"What we did there (in Australia) is of secondary importance to us," he said.
If built -- at a cost of $700 million -- the Summit would be about 200 feet shy of the Stratosphere's 1,149 feet, and would be one of the tallest residential towers in the world. Di Mauro said financing for the project would come from "internal and external funding," including revenue from other business interests, which he declined to identify.
A unique aspect of the tower, besides its height, is the type of condos that would be sold.
A hybrid of a permanent residential tower and a so-called "condo-hotel," the tower would include 960 units on 73 floors.
Lower floor levels would be marketed toward the second-home market and would be for sale, but they would be fully furnished and owners would have the option of renting the units out via a rental pool when they're not using them.
The top 16 floors would have 151 permanent residential units, ranging in size from 1,276 square feet to 11,000 square feet. The penthouse would be 15,682 square feet and may be priced at $35 million, the developers said.
Prices for the other condos likely would start at $750,000.
Di Mauro said the blending of the two condo types was because of the uniqueness of the Las Vegas market.
"We would like to think we've designed the building with Las Vegas in mind," he said. "As a result, I think we'll get a positive reception."
Thomas Schoeman, president of JMA Architecture Studios, which designed the project, said the mix works because about 80 percent of condo buyers in Las Vegas are second and third home buyers.
The Summit tower is the latest in a string of announcements from developers who have discovered Las Vegas as an untapped frontier for high-rise condominiums.
Numerous high-rise projects have been planned along and near the Strip, including the Sahara Avenue Condominiums, just west of Las Vegas Boulevard on Sahara, which were approved by the Las Vegas City Council earlier this month.
Developers for that project envision two 430-foot, 39-story towers that would feature 404 condos in each tower.
Di Mauro said he and his partner were attracted to Las Vegas because of "the opportunity that exists here."
"We are also heartened that the city was so supportive of those types of buildings," Di Mauro said. "The reception by the city has been fantastic. We believe the downtown area is ripe for redevelopment."
The city of Las Vegas has been attempting to woo developers to downtown by easing up on zoning and building requirements and even hosting seminars and tours, in hopes of sparking an interest in redevelopment.
The planned Summit tower is the second planned local tower for the Australians. They received approval earlier this month for the 21-story Liberty Tower on Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of the Stratosphere.
Ben Contine, president of the Beverly-Green Neighborhood Association, said that he wasn't worried about the impact of the tower on his neighborhood, which is adjacent to the site on the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard.
"For a long time this neighborhood has believed that high-rise residential development along Las Vegas Boulevard is appropriate for a number of reasons. It brings residents back to the inner core of the city, there already are established public transportation lines, and it provides the ability to live, work and play in the same area, which we all desire," Contine said.
Contine, who was a leader in the effort several years ago to kill the proposal by the Stratosphere to cross Las Vegas Boulevard with a roller coaster, said that projects need to be compatible with the neighborhoods.
For example, the Liberty Towers project, which is being built by the Summit developers only a few blocks north of the proposed Summit, went through a process that included a series of meetings with residents to ensure that it would integrate with its surroundings.
That means such elements as ground-floor retail, and access to the grounds, as opposed to condominium towers along the strip that are walled off and guard-gated. Those type of building strategies make the buildings an asset for the entire neighborhood, something the developers said was key to their concept.
"My client's instructions were clear. Las Vegas Boulevard is a place to see and be seen. They didn't want an inaccessible enclave with gates, guards and no people at street level. We were instructed to keep the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue vibrant, alive and buzzing whilst still preserving the privacy and security of permanent residents," Nic Niccum, architect with JMA Architecture Studios, said in a statement.
Contine said that residents' work on maintaining the neighborhood has helped set the stage for the recent project announcements.
"Because residents have fought things like the Stratosphere, because they stood up and fought bad development, it's been a major reason why these type of projects are now viable. The Liberty Tower project would not have happened had the Stratosphere built the roller coaster," Contine said. "We've been vigilant and we've always believed this was a wonderful neighborhood, we think it's the best neighborhood in Las Vegas. Had we not stayed vigilant these type of projects may not be viable."
Contine said that despite the number of projects recently announced, the excitement has not worn off.
"I don't think we've taken it as overly common just yet," he said. "I don't know if we're to that point yet, that we take them for granted."
However, he said, "we have certainly transitioned from these types of projects being theoretical or things we expect down the road to things that are happening right now."
Contine cautioned that "we still need to push to make sure these projects are in the right places. And we have to make sure when we increase the density we still have the services to provide for the new residents."
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, history professor and author Hal Rothman said that the proposal is classic Las Vegas.
"There is no place that makes people's eyes bigger than their stomaches more than Las Vegas," Rothman said. He said the number of projects recently announced "obviously changes the cityscape ... it's going to look more and more urban." However, he said, many of the projects -- particularly those along the Strip -- represent second residences for wealthy people, and do not address housing issues in the valley. "In that sense we're getting the illusion of an urban cityscape," Rothman said.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said that he takes projects seriously "when I see the ground broken -- and still I'm praying."
He often notes that one downtown project, L'Octaine apartments, already was announced when he took office, yet didn't begin construction until recently.
But, Goodman said, he's starting to see an acceleration of projects becoming reality.
For example, he said, "I would never have dreamed the furniture mart would have been as awesome as it is. I'm flabbergasted at the magnitude."
As for the proposed Summit, he said, if it comes to fruition, "it's the gateway to the city. Instead of looking at the billboard sign of a girl reclining in a pink dress I'll be able to look at this wonderful hotel-residential complex."
Councilman Gary Reese, whose Ward 3 contains the proposed Summit, said of the project: "900 feet -- that's pretty good."
Reese, who has been on council since 1995, and was a planning commissioner previously, said he's not surprised to see what's happening.
"I've always dreamed of it," he said. "When people talk about redeveloping downtown, we never had a downtown area like San Francisco or Baltimore to redevelop. I keep telling people that I hope 30 years from now they're able to redevelop what I've done."
Of the Summit specifically, he said, "I hope on that proposal there are a lot of nice restaurants, retail and commercial on the bottom."
Of high-rise projects in general, Reese said, "With that many, that high, there's going to be a lot of people so we need to have some of the other amenities that go with it. We're going to have to have dry cleaners, drug stores and stuff like that downtown."
Greg Borgel, a land-use consultant for the Summit, said the project embodies the evolution of the city.
"I think it means that Las Vegas is becoming a real city, as opposed to a gambling patch in the desert," Borgel said. "It means that the city of Las Vegas' long-expressed desire for significant residential use downtown is being realized."