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Seven-year itch ready to pay off for Starwood

Jun 24, 2003 9:20 AM

Seven years after their aborted attempt to build a hotel-casino at the site of the former Desert Inn, partners Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. and Planet Hollywood International Inc. got a second chance last week.

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge awarded Starwood and Planet Hollywood the winning bid on the Aladdin Hotel, after creditors for bankrupt Aladdin Gaming approved their offer to buy it for $635 million, including assuming $510 million in debt and investing $90 million to improve the Strip casino.

Back in 1996, when Starwood owned the former Desert Inn, Planet Hollywood used actor and then-partner Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce the firm would construct a movie-themed, hotel-casino there, but the deal soon collapsed when the company fell on bad times.

With the award of the troubled, $1.3 billion Arabian-themed Aladdin hotel, Planet Hollywood may well soon see its original idea come to fruition. The partners plan to turn the Aladdin into the Planet Holly­­wood Hotel and Casino, with its hotel operations coordinated by Starwood’s Sheraton hotel chain.

The partner plans to redecorate the hotel’s rooms while drawing on the movie theme, and use a collection of Hollywood film memorabilia ”” like those on display in Planet Hollywood restaurants ”” to adorn the hotel and its high roller and specialty suites.

The Aladdin’s top floor suites will become known as the ­­"celebrity suites" floor "reflecting the lives, and careers of some of our most beloved movie stars," according to a statement by the partners.

The suites on the floor beneath that will be devoted to films, decorated with relics from some of Hollywood’s top-grossing films. The partners also want to use the resort’s 7,000-seat theater for major headline acts and for Hollywood-style movie ­­premieres.

Joining the partnership in the Aladdin with Starwood and Planet Hollywood is Bay Harbor Management, headed by Doug Teitelbaum.

"Plans for a Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas have been in the works for years," said Robert Earl, chairman of Planet Hollywood.

"I am thrilled that we have been able to put together the team, and the plan, to make it happen at this incredible location on the Strip," Earl said. "The time is right, the Planet Hollywood brand is back on the upswing, and there is no better place to start our hotel and casino business than here, today, in Las Vegas."

"We are pleased to be able to return to this important travel market as a partner in this venture," said Barry S. Sternlicht, chairman and chief executive of Starwood. "The asset is extremely well located and though our investment is modest, the opportunity is not. The joint venture is acquiring a major asset at less than 50 percent of its original cost."

Also part of the management mix at the Aladdin would be Mike Mecca, who will serve as president and chief executive officer of the joint venture.

Mecca, one of the most highly-respected gaming operators in the industry, is the former the general manager of the Green Valley Ranch Casino and Spa in Henderson. He also opened the Greektown Casino in Detroit.

The Aladdin property includes 2,567 hotel rooms, 114,000 square feet casino of casino space and the Theatre of Performing Arts. The deal announced last week does not involve the Desert Passage shopping mall, which is owned separately.

Earl and Teitelbaum still face gaming licensing probes by the State Gaming Control Board.