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Turnberry on track for London-theme resort

Nov 20, 2001 9:09 AM

In a race to develop a London-themed resort, Turnberry Associates appears to have the inside track.

The Florida developer will submit updated plans to the County Commission this week for a London-styled hotel-casino to be built on the site of the razed El Rancho south of the Sahara.

“If you’ve seen Paris, you ain’t seen nothing yet,’’ said Paul Pusateri, a former Park Place exec who is Turnberry’s point man for the project.

Turnberry has been jousting with local developer Howard Bulloch, who has his own designs on a London-oriented resort on 80 acres at the south end of the Strip. The Florida company took the lead last month when it was first to file incorporation papers with Nevada’s secretary of state.

The privately held Turnberry, which is erecting pricey high-rise condominiums nearby at Turnberry Towers and Madison Towers, has not yet named its resort. But plans call for a 90,000-square-foot casino and a 44-story hotel tower with 2,050 rooms. A timeshare tower also may be added.

In revised plans to be filed this week, the company confirmed that sidewalks outside the property would remain open to the public. Raising the specter of possible labor strife, the Culinary Union had appealed earlier plans over concerns that the sidewalks might be closed to protests or demonstrations.

“They will be public,’’ assured Greg Borgel, planning consultant for Turnberry.

Pusateri said no groundbreaking date has been set. And industry analysts say Turnberry may move cautiously as long as the Las Vegas economy remains sluggish. Pusateri confirmed that, telling GamingToday, “Get back to us in about six months.’’

But with approval in hand and its London theme apparently locked down, Turnberry figures it doesn’t need to rush ”” unless Bulloch’s group pushes the pedal to the metal.

The project “will have all the elements ”” Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey,’’ Borgel said.

In addition, the resort plans to have its own version of the Big Eye, the massive Millennium Ferris wheel that looms over downtown London. The 450-foot-high superstructure will have 35 egg-shaped pods, each holding 29 people.

Having directed Park Place Entertainment’s development of Paris two years ago, Pusateri is eager to create London, Las Vegas-style. The former president of Paris and Bally’s signed on to the project last year.

He said Turnberry vice president Jeffrey Sofer will apply for a gaming license and that the company plans to be the casino operator. Financing is still being arranged, Pusateri added.

Turnberry, founded by Florida real estate magnate Donald Sofer, Jeffrey’s father, has developed more than $2 billion in commercial and residential properties over the past 30 years.

Its entry into the casino sector is another boost for the northern end of the Strip that has languished in recent years. In the wake of Terror Tuesday, Hilton Corp. halted work on its timeshare project across the street and acreage at the southwest corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard remains vacant.

But with Steve Wynn ramping up his Desert Inn project, industry observers are more bullish about the north Strip’s prospects. “That’s where the action is going to be,’’ said one analyst.