Fontainebleau eyes a future
in Las Vegas

Apr 26, 2005 6:15 AM

Miami Beach’s renowned Fontainebleau, a hotel that provided developer Jay Sarno with the inspiration for Caesars Palace and spawned a subsequent age of themed resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, is expected to become part of the southern Nevada landscape.

Insiders suggest a joint venture will be struck between recent Fontainebleau purchaser Turnberry Associates and the top executives who will leave Mandalay Resort Group (MRG) following its sale to MGM Mirage.

None of the principals involved was available for comment, but several sources have confirmed the essence of what’s happening.

MRG President Glenn Schaeffer and other senior executives from the company will direct the revitalization of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach and the development of a Fontainebleau on the Las Vegas Strip.

Running the half-century-old Florida resort that inspired Sarno to create Caesars Palace in 1966 is only a small part of what is in the works. Sarno’s long ago experiences at the Fontainebleau (it opened in 1954) were products of another place and time. But the inspiration he brought to Las Vegas resulted in Caesars Palace and Circus Circus several years later.

Steve Wynn has said he thinks of the Fontainebleau as one of the major resort statements of the last half-century.

Turnberry officials already have the land and they obviously have the desire to take the Fontainebleau’s "grand dame image" and turn it into a national hotel brand evoking the best images that the resort industry has to offer.

A London-themed casino was planned by Turnberry several years ago on acreage opposite Circus. This land includes the former site of the El Rancho

Shaeffer is the best known of the names associated with Mandalay. The success story that Schaeffer and others built, thanks to the strong performance of the company’s flagship Mandalay Bay, has done nothing to hurt his image.

Nevertheless, Schaeffer and other top MRG executives have been low-key about plans since the announcement last year that MRG was being acquired by MGM Mirage in a deal valued at nearly $8 billion.

Turnberry has already established itself as a leader on the Strip, albeit a non-gaming one. The high-priced, high-rise condominium residences in three towers at the north end of the Strip were so successful that MGM jumped at the chance for a joint venture with Turnberry. That joint venture has produced plans for three pricey high-rise condo complexes on property that was once part of the MGM Grand’s theme park.

Turnberry officials said then that they planned to spend about $150 million over the next couple of years on improvements that would include "Las Vegas-style entertainment amenities" at the Miami resort.

When Turnberry bought the Fontainebleau it decided to drop the resort’s long-time connection with the Hilton reservation system. "The Fontainebleau name is strong enough," explained Turnberry hotel division chief Philip Goldfarb.

There was speculation that the parting of the ways with Hilton might represent an early step in the Turnberry strategy to turn up the wattage around the Fontainebleau name, producing a national hotel brand with its own following.

Schaeffer and friends, with their experience running some of the most successful resorts in the country, could be key to nationalizing the brand.

Over the years, the Fontainebleau has been featured in movies and television before the cameras ever turned toward the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas.

With the help of several former Vegas execs, the Fontainebleau name might be ready for a comeback.