Top architect sees new hotel model

Feb 22, 2005 6:49 AM

When Joel Bergman finished reading Ayn Rand’s classic 1943 novel, "The Fountainhead," he vowed to dye his hair red and become Howard Roark, the architect so idealistic that he would blast to kingdom come a housing project he designed rather than allow its short-sighted owners make any alterations.

Rand’s book, which is loosely based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, was later made into a movie that starred Gary Cooper.

"I liked everything about the movie version, except Patricia Neal," Berman says, in reference to Dominique, Roark’s love interest.

Twenty years after reading Rand’s novel, Bergman graduated cum laude and as a member of the National Architectural Honor Fraternity at the University of Southern California.

Today one wonders if Joel Bergman — the architect behind such notable Las Vegas properties as The Mirage, Golden Nugget, Treasure Island and Paris Las Vegas — would have the moral purpose to defend his own designs with such conviction, if not a few sticks of dynamite.

Spend a day or two in Bergman’s office and you’d probably guess that he would. As the president of Bergman, Walls & Associates, he is involved in the day-to-day design, programming, planning, financial projections, color and material selections of all projects, from conception to completion.

And he’s fiercely dedicated to ensuring his concepts are not altered, not even in the slightest manner.

"Do not ever, ever, ever ask those people to touch my stuff," Bergman admonishes an assistant who made a minor change to a drawing. "Don’t do it. There is no excuse, unless I’m dead for two weeks, don’t do it."

Prior to founding the architectural firm in 1994, Bergman was Steve Wynn’s in-house architect for 16 years.

While working for Wynn, Bergman in 1989 designed The Mirage, which, next to Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo, is probably the most important resort ever built in Las Vegas.

Not only was The Mirage a masterpiece of design, it introduced a revolutionary new gaming genre to the Las Vegas Strip — the "mega-resort."

In the decade of the 1990s, 11 other major Strip resorts followed Bergman’s lead. Conversely, since 2000 not one Strip resort has risen, although Wynn’s new hotel is scheduled to open in April.

Obviously, times have changed. And, Bergman says, so have genres.

"Over the next six to 10 years, the trend will be toward multiple ownership via the condominium hotel," Bergman says.

He added that every project currently being planned as a gaming hotel on or near the Strip will have a condo component, that is, will have condominiums for sale along with guest rooms for rent.

"The condo hotel is a beautiful vehicle for supporting the finance of the project," Bergman says. "And the condo units are nifty spaces — at or close to all the amenities that a bachelor or couple might want: restaurants, maid service, room service, security. We’re a hot ticket ”¦ everybody wants to own a piece of Vegas, and now we’ve made this available."

Bergman says most of the buyers are looking for second, third and fourth homes. And they’re coming from all over — Southern California, Florida, the East Coast, South America, Europe and Asia.

For developers, the condo hotel is attractive because unit sales can help a strapped developer get his construction or "take out" financing. "The amount of money to get into that arena has gone up unbelievably," he says.

So far, Bergman says there are only two condominium hotel projects currently under construction — The Residences by Turnberry at MGM Grand and Trump International Hotel and Tower on the property of the Frontier Hotel (both designed by Bergman).

But more should be on the way. Bergman has designed a mega-resort with a condo component for Phil Ruffin, the owner of the New Frontier.

And he expects that the Stardust will eventually be leveled to make way for a resort that will in all likelihood include condominium units.

In general, Bergman predicts there will be more development along the north Strip before there’s expansion south of Mandalay Bay. Ripe for development are Circus Circus, the Riviera and Sahara — all of which should be torn down, Bergman says.

"You need at least 20 to 24 acres for a Strip project," Bergman says.

For the "no man’s land" north of Sahara extending to downtown, Bergman predicts development will occur, but at a slower pace. "Somebody has to be the first in redevelopment areas, but I don’t have any pioneers as clients," he says. "But if units are priced right, they will sell; the problem is affording to build them at those prices."

Although he predicts the condo hotel will replace the standard hotel as the model of the future, he views it as positive change for Southern Nevada.

"It’s a great vehicle, I love it," he says. "It will bring a lot of new blood to town."