Proposed Stratosphere ride about to derail?

Oct 17, 2001 1:54 AM

When Las Vegas casinos say “jump,’’ cooperative public officials usually ask, “How high?” But a 750-foot-high roller coaster proposed to run down the side of the Stratosphere Tower may be in trouble.

The City Council is expected to vote on the $20 million project Wednesday. And officials are hedging their bets.

A GamingToday survey of council members shows little enthusiasm for the thrill ride. The project, rejected by the planning commission on a 3-2 vote in August, has taken a beating from neighbors waging a vocal campaign to fight it.

Councilman Gary Reese, who represents the area, is a strong advocate for Downtown development. But he’s heard the opposition loud and clear. While trying to keep “an open mind,’’ he asks, “What are we doing here?” He worries about noise and even health issues, noting that a man recently suffered a heart attack on the Buffalo Bill’s roller coaster at Primm.

The Stratosphere thrill ride is designed to plunge across Las Vegas Boulevard at speeds up to 120 mph. The enclosed cars, riding on rubber wheels, would be safe and quiet, says hotel-casino attorney J.T. Moran III.

Stratosphere executives contend that the yet-to-be-named coaster is essential if the property is to compete with Strip resorts. They say the ride will attract new business to Downtown and boost the casino’s bottom line.

“I can appreciate where the Stratosphere is coming from,’’ Reese responds. “But there isn’t any housing down on the Strip. This is a neighborhood. It’s different.’’

Neighbors ”” led by John Delikanakis, who is an attorney for Park Place Entertainment ”” say the ride would be a blow to Downtown development. “No one wants to live in the shadow of a carnival,’’ he says.

No council members have come forward to publicly support the coaster. Mayor Oscar Goodman, uncharacteristically low-key, said he would have no comment until the vote. Councilman Larry Weekly said his main concern was for the residents. Councilmen Michael McDonald and Larry Brown didn’t return phone calls.

Lynette Boggs McDonald said it was “refreshing” that the Stratosphere is not asking for government subsidies. She also recalled that the towering resort generated a lot of unfulfilled “gloom and doom’’ scenarios when it was proposed in the mid-1990s. But the newly announced congressional candidate added that she has not staked out a position on the ride.

Michael Mack came closest to supporting the venture, noting, “A $20 million investment is important. In the current (economic) situation, we need to have open eyes and focus on development.’’ However, Mack said he will abstain from the vote because his brother owns a pawn shop across from the Stratosphere.

Meantime, Stratosphere continues to make its pitch. CEO Richard Brown noted that owner Carl Icahn has pumped $100 million into expanding the towering hotel-casino and expects to pay some $3 million in local taxes this year.

On Friday, hotel marketers brought a $50,000 model of the ride to City Hall. And the casino has been reaching out to other residents in an attempt to build support for the project. One city official said the Stratosphere might be able to exploit the fact that many of the opponents ”” self-described “neighbors” ”” actually live far away from the tower.