Another mega-project!

May 22, 2007 3:22 AM

Move over Project CityCenter and Echelon Place, there’s another billion dollar casino complex coming to the Las Vegas Strip.

Last week, the owner of The Plaza hotel in New York announced plans to buy the New Frontier hotel-casino and develop a $5 billion multiuse complex on what it called "the last available prime parcel on the Las Vegas Strip."

Elad Group intends to build a luxury hotel with about 3,500 rooms, private residences, retail space and a casino bearing The Plaza brand on the New Frontier site, Elad president Miki Naftali said in a statement.

Opening of the 34.5-acre site across from the Wynn Las Vegas is targeted for 2011.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin, the current owner of the 984-room New Frontier, said the group would pay a little more than $1.2 billion for the property and demolish it early next year.

Ruffin bought the hotel that features a mechanical bull and bikini mud wrestling in 1998 for $165 million from the Elardi family.

The site is across from where Wynn Resorts Ltd. is building the $2.1 billion Encore casino resort, which is set to open in 2009, and it’s south of Boyd Gaming Corp.’s planned $4.4 billion Echelon complex, which is scheduled for a 2010 opening.

The deal does not include the 7 acres on which Ruffin has partnered with Donald Trump to develop two 1,283-unit condominium-hotel projects. The first Trump tower is expected to be topped off later this month, and reservations are being taken on the second.

"Donald and I are delighted that this is going to happen, because it enhances our two properties to have The Plaza next to us, instead of The Frontier," Ruffin said.

In March, Ruffin said negotiations with Elad appeared to be falling apart, but he said he reached an agreement at a recent meeting in New York with its owner, Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva.

Elad put $100 million in escrow to seal the deal, he said.

Ruffin, who was ranked 717th on Forbes’ global billionaires list with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion, said his net worth will nearly double after the sale.

His Ruffin Companies is a privately owned casino, property, trucking and hotel company based in Wichita, Kansas, where he owns a dog track and casino.

The purchase price, at about $35 million an acre, raises the bar for land values on the Strip.

Last month casino operator MGM Mirage said it would pay about $17 million per acre for 34 acres of undeveloped land north of its Circus Circus casino.

The Plaza Hotel in New York, bought by Elad in 2004 for $650 million, was closed in 2005 to renovate it into a mixed-use property of condominiums, retail space and some hotel rooms. It is set to reopen in September.

The company said it hopes to replicate the Plaza’s upscale style and level of service in Las Vegas, a spokesman said.

"The character of The Plaza will be reflected in an imaginative and appropriate way."