Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2019

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Jewelry hub won’t adorn Symphony Park soon

City Council set to soften time line, add wiggle room to deal for project

Symphony Park

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Plans to build a key world jewelry industry hub in downtown’s Symphony Park will take years longer than originally planned.

At today’s Las Vegas City Council meeting, the city and the World Jewelry Center’s Beverly Hills-based developer are set to amend their agreement to give the center six more years to fulfill its original plans — including the option to scale them back.

The city will also have the option to back out and allow something else to be built on the parcel should another developer — one with concrete financing in place — come along.

Officials with the city and the jewelry center, including lead developer Robert Zarnegin, have said although plans for the center are on hold, they’re not dead.

Zarnegin, who could not be reached for comment, has been quoted recently saying a lack of financing has caused him to significantly scale back his plans, at least temporarily, including scrapping “ultra-luxury” condominium units on the top 10 floors of the 52-story tower.

According to Rita Brandin, a senior vice president of Newland Communities, which is serving as both Symphony Park’s project manager for the city and the developer of several residential projects there, all options are still on the table.

“We can’t say what they may or may not have in the future,” Brandin said. “There could be one tower or two towers, they may have residential — that has yet to be seen.”

The original plans, approved by the City Council in February 2008, were for nothing less than a center of the universe for jewelry designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and others — “a one-stop shop for all facets of the jewelry industry,” according to the center’s Web site.

The goal, Zarnegin told real estate news Web site in early 2008, is to house as many as 500 of the world’s 15,000-20,000 jewelry manufacturers and dealers at the center.

The main tower was slated to include 1.35 million square feet of space, including 815,000 square feet for offices and 139,000 square feet for the condo units above them. The retail center was to include 225,000 square feet for jewelers and other stores, including restaurants.

The roughly six-acre site would cost Zarnegin’s group about $10 million. It is unclear how much the original project was slated to cost.

Center officials have done more than make promises and architectural plans. As of a year ago, they had signed letters of intent with about 150 tenants from around the world, including 26 from India.

The center was aided in its sales effort by its former managing director, Bill Boyajian, who had served as president of the Gemological Institute of America.

Boyajian has left his position with Zarnegin, an official confirmed.

One of the center’s would-be tenants is the American Gem Society, the Las Vegas-based association dedicated to maintaining ethical business practices within the jewelry industry.

Ruth Batson, the society’s executive director and CEO, said she was pleased to hear about the delay in the center’s plans. Her group is also hurting financially, she said.

“We’re thankful that everything has been put on hold because we would have had to back out,” Batson said.

“It’s still a good idea,” she added. “I think it would enable those in the business to work more efficiently and effectively.”

According to Brandin, the revised agreement provides an out to the city. If the city finds a “preferred development proposal,” it can go with the new developer. That might lead to the jewelry center moving to another parcel in Symphony Park, if Zarnegin agreed.

Any new deal would have to make financial sense, Brandin said, meaning the developer would have to demonstrate rock-solid financing.

That the slumping local and national economies are forcing important downtown development projects into holding patterns is not new.

Brandin told the City Council two months ago that construction on Newland’s first housing development at Symphony Park, which will include a 19-story high rise, has been delayed two years, until 2011.

The start of a possible new city hall has been delayed as city officials try to determine whether it’s economically feasible in the current climate.

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