North end of Vegas Strip to get welcomed facelift

Nov 5, 2015 11:14 AM

Finally... The north end of the Las Vegas Strip appears headed for a welcomed facelift with an agreement that will improve the looks of Carl Icahn’s abandoned 68-story resort project that was about 70 percent complete when work was halted six years ago.

Previous owners had envisioned the project as a Las Vegas version of Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau, but the Great Recession and the collapse of an anticipated source of financing took care of that optimism. Icahn and Penn National Gaming were the principal bidders when the unfinished hotel went on sale in a Miami bankruptcy court in 2010.

Icahn nosed out Penn by agreeing to buy it for $150 million. He may have expected Penn to step up and take it off his hands, but the Penn team which prided itself on a disciplined approach to such matters said thanks, but no thanks.

Other potential buyers have stopped by to take a look since then but left without making an acceptable offer, reactions that were not surprising considering conditions in the travel and tourism industry at that time. Icahn began selling off warehouses full of furnishings and fixtures that were to be installed in the wannabe-Fontainebleau.

The years have gone by and Icahn appeared content to wait for an offer he could not refuse. What he got instead was a lot of frowns and questions from people wondering how long he could just let the building sit there?

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has been at the front of those trying to get something done and finally found the leverage she needed when Icahn’s holding company applied for an extension of time to work on exterior improvements such as sidewalks and lighting.

The county staff said in so many words, you’ve got to be kidding, and turned down the extension request, which was appealed to the County Commission.

Gotcha, or a phrase to that effect, may have crossed Giunchigliani’s mind as she considered seeking approval to use funds that had already been set aside for the offsite improvements, or spend whatever is necessary to cover up the “gaping hole” in the lower level that faces the street.

The Icahn team agreed Wednesday to make the aesthetic improvements and the Commission threw in their approval of  the extension that had been requested.

But the still unanswered question remains: Does Icahn have any interest in turning the project into a resort?

He already owns the Tropicana in Atlantic City and may soon also own the Taj Mahal, which is close to exiting a financial reorganization. Icahn has agreed to take it over, assuming a court upholds the removal of pension and health insurance benefits.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].