A string of projects inject new life into Las Vegas

Several years of halted development and tightened consumer spending is slowly coming to an end as new signs of life surface in Las Vegas. Projects forge ahead on Las Vegas Boulevard and downtown, with major plans for a complete revitalisation at the northern end of the Strip.

Gaming revenue was up by just over one percent in Las Vegas last year, as wears of the recession started to ease, putting consumer spending back on track. Revenues were attributed to non-gaming offerings more than ever before and tourism numbers remain healthy. Even house prices are booming, with Southern Nevada showing a 30 percent rise in 2012.

“It’s a psychological boost, and it affirms real change is happening,” expressed Robert Lang, co-director of Brookings Mountain West research institute, “What it demonstrates is that people in the rest of the world with deep pockets may be looking at the Strip and saying, ‘Now’s the time to get in.’”

At the northern, and somewhat dormant end of the Strip, the 87-acre Echelon site that was once home to the legendary Stardust has stood as an untouched concrete eyesore for five years. Malaysian-based Genting purchased the site for $350m in March and is set to bring its Resorts World brand to Las Vegas. Having failed to develop a similar concept in Miami, a multibillion-dollar resort designed by renowned casino architect Paul Steelman will rise from the abandoned husk of a site over the next three years.

Genting’s Asian origins and proven casino resort model will soon start to unfold, including plans to house the city’s largest casino, at 175,000 square feet. Strip-front land will be occupied by low-rise pagodas comprising theatres, restaurants and retail. A Chinese-theme throughout, with a replica of the Great Wall and display for live pandas, will aim to attract patronage from Asia, both mass market and high rollers. “East meets West…Old Asia meets new Asia,” describes Steelman of the project.

“The fact that a major foreign company wants to take a risk on the Strip is a pretty fair argument that things are turning around,” commented Jeremy Aguero, Principal Analyst at Las Vegas-based Applied Analysis, “The coming years will witness some of the most creative resort projects ever to enter the market.”

Further north of Genting’s project, past the 70-percent complete Fontainebleau, work has begun to transform the former Sahara into SLS Las Vegas, representing “style, luxury and service”. Upwards of $750m is projected to be spent on the upscale resort designed by French architect Philippe Starck and is scheduled to complete late 2014.

At the heart of the Strip, the 550-foot observation wheel that will be the crown jewel of Caesars’ illustrious Linq entertainment district is shaping up. Next door, Bill’s Gambling Hall is undergoing a $185m renovation that will see boutique hotel casino, Gransevoort Las Vegas open early 2014. Another boutique hotel, THEhotel by MGM Resorts and Morgans Hotels will open later this year at the Mandalay Bay.

Moving south along Las Vegas Boulevard, between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo, lies a piece of land where MGM is planning to build a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena. Las Vegas Global Business District, a $2.5bn project to re-create the Las Vegas convention centre just off the Strip corridor, has also been given the green light.

Meanwhile, Downtown Las Vegas continues to draw attention as at least $754m in public and private projects came to fruition last year and a further $355m of developments are scheduled to complete in 2013. Spearheaded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, an initiative dubbed “Downtown Project” recently launched to invest in retail estate, small business, tech start-up companies and education on Freemont East.

“It’s happening all around us,” added Aguero, who has been studying the Vegas economy for years, “People are still a little nervous and shell-shocked, but we don’t have to look very far to see other communities that would give their eye teeth to be where we are. Is it now time to take a sigh of relief? Yes. We can exhale.”