Frontier owner optimistic over Trump project

Apr 30, 2002 11:00 AM

Phil Ruffin says the sky’s the limit for his joint venture with Donald Trump.

The New Frontier owner reports that he’s been "deluged with calls" from prospective buyers interested in the 60-story condominium tower slated to go up behind the Strip resort. It would be the tallest building on Las Vegas Boulevard.

"The Trump name is good and he builds a fantastic project,’’ Ruffin told GamingToday last week. "There will be a lot of glass and marble,’’ he adds, in contrast to the smoke and mirrors that accompany so many pie-in-the-sky visions that have gone bust elsewhere.

Ruffin and Trump are 50-50 partners in the $350 million venture, with the Frontier providing the land. Centered on the 40-acre parking lot, the Las Vegas version of Manhattan’s Trump Towers will sit on just 3½ acres. "He can build on a postage stamp,’’ Ruffin laughs.

That’s about the only area where Trump and Ruffin are economizing. Suites are expected to average about $2 million, an upscale pricetag similar to the successful Turnberry Towers at Paradise and Riviera.

Ruffin sees the project ”” along with the addition of Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s at the expanding Fashion Show mall next door ”” changing the complexion of the Frontier.

"The Frontier can’t stay (in its current configuration) long term,’’ says Ruffin, who continues to pore over plans to convert the 986-room property into a lavish 2,500-room San Francisco-themed megaresort.

That resort may be paired with an $800 million hotel-casino. Ruffin is reportedly negotiating with a "good-sized publicly traded hotel company’’ to jointly develop another portion of the Frontier property. He would not divulge the name of the firm, but said it was not the Marriott Corp., with which he operates several hotels nationwide.

Sources say this second project would "complement" the $1 billion City by the Bay venture.

Before hitting the implosion button on the Frontier, however, Ruffin is waiting for Steve Wynn to move forward with Le Reve across the street. "Nothing happens until Steve gets his deal off the ground,’’ he says of the pending project pegged at $1.6 billion.

Unlike Wynn, who reversed course last week and announced a public offering to obtain financing, Ruffin says he intends to keep his company private ”” "at this point."

Some skeptics wonder about Trump, though. The New York real estate tycoon has had cash-flow problems for decades, his Atlantic City casinos struggle for profitability and his stock continues to languish.

"He’s very quotable, but you have to take everything he says with a grain of salt,’’ warns one gaming insider.

Still, Ruffin and Trump expect clear sailing with zoning and construction on their 300-condo tower. The pair has hired planning guru Greg Borgel to shepherd the project. Legal eagle Frank Schreck is their attorney.

  Pre-sales of condominium units are expected to begin by year-end and construction is due to start in 2003. Opening is set for late 2004 or early 2005.

Taking the long view, Ruffin is more bullish than ever on his north Strip neighborhood. And why not? When the Kansas City-based hotelier bought the strike-ridden Frontier in 1998, he paid $167 million. Today, he sits at the epicenter of Las Vegas’ burgeoning gaming and retail district.

No wonder his phone is ringing off the hook these days.