The Echelon project may be dead, but Strip is very much alive

Since the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the famous Strip, Las Vegas has led the casino industry.   In the early years, even as Vegas dazzled the world with new casinos, famous entertainers and rich gamblers, Las Vegas was also a symbol of the crass and ostentatious.  The city and its casinos often filled in nicely as a symbol, a metaphor when someone wanted to criticize our national greed or moral decline.  In the 1950s, 60s and 70s people wrote about the casinos designed and built for immediate profit with no thought given to beauty or history – everything in the city was said to be driven by base emotions, by greediness.  In those years, Las Vegas was the home of cheap, bad food and gaudy entertainment.

However, in the 1980s things began to change; the reality on the ground changed and national attitudes toward gambling in general changed.  Magically, almost over night, Las Vegas was the place for the latest trends in both food, entertainment and resort design.  Entrepreneurs from all over the world went to Vegas to test the waters and build out their dreams.   In the last twenty years,  the Las Vegas Strip has been a metaphor for entertainment, excitement and innovation.  Hot night clubs, spectacular billion-dollar resorts, exotic chefs, magicians, dazzling circus acts, Broadway musicals, poolside “day clubs” and even art collections all found their way to that narrow strip of land in the Nevada desert.  With the help of hundreds, if not thousands, of innovative people experimenting, Las Vegas was now edgy – the leading edge of everything in entertainment.

For 60 years, the population growth rate in Las Vegas led the nation; and all of those people worked, that is why the came to town.  Vegas led the nation in construction – houses, schools, roads, resorts, condominiums and gated communities – Las Vegas built faster than any other place in the country.  Well, as we all know, that came to a screeching halt in 2007 and it has not resumed.  Now Las Vegas leads the nation in unemployment, mortgage forecloses, empty houses, deserted malls and unfinished mega-projects.   The Las Vegas Sun did a piece on the unfinished projects in 2011, the Sun listed about 15 condominium projects, shopping malls, hotel towers and casino resorts standing unfinished, deserted.  The total value of those projects when they broke ground would probably have been close to $10 billion – a pretty chunk of change.

Most of them still stand as they were when the workers walked away; a couple have been wrapped to make them look finished, but most are just ugly and unfinished – pieces and parts sticking up into the desert sky.  On July 18th, the county zoning commission granted Boyd Gaming a 5-year extension on its unfinished $4.8 billion Echelon resort, it was the third extension.  No one knows if Boyd will ever restart the project, but in the meantime, the company promised the county it would spend $4 million to beautify the site.  The commission congratulated Boyd on doing more than most companies the reduce the ugliness of an unfinished project.  Another of those unfinished dreams is Fontainebleau.

In late 2009, Carl Icahn earlier purchased the unfinished $2.9 billion Fontainebleau.  Icahn is a speculator and at the time he said he had no plans for the site and would wait until the economy improved in Las Vegas.  Icahn bought it out of bankruptcy for a mere $150 million, so waiting is financially painful.  However, he is 76 years old, so I would not think he wants to wait 20 years – but 10 or 15? He would still be younger than Kirk Kerkorian is now, so maybe 20 years is not too long to get a good return on his investment – he is a patient man.

MGM found a solution to its unfinished project, the Harmon Tower – get rid of it.  MGM stopped the construction in 2008, building inspectors had found defects in the structure.  Since MGM has blamed the builder, and rather than repair the building it has sought to demolish the building.  Now, a cynical person might argue that MGM does not have enough business for its existing rooms at CityCenter – MGM does not need or want more hotel rooms.  But the judge bought MGM’s argument and agreed it was simply a business decision.  A judge has just given MGM permission to demolish the Harmon Tower – $279 million is going to come crashing down.   But that is the story of the post-recession world and Las Vegas is once again the leader – the leader in going backwards and undoing some of the excesses of the boom, but still maintaining its vibrancy.  Las Vegas has to clean up the mess left over from its excesses and it will.  At the same time, if you are looking for the latest trends in food, entertainment and excitement look to Las Vegas.  Echelon, Fontainebleau and Harmon may be dead, but the Strip is very much alive.

 The Clark County Zoning Commission on Wednesday granted Boyd Gaming Corp. a six-year extension of time on the north Strip Echelon project. But Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani wanted the unfinished megaresort, on which construction has been suspended since 2008, to be less of an eyesore. So Boyd worked with the commission to craft a $4 million site beautification plan…Boyd shelved plans for the $4.8 billion project Aug. 1, 2008, intending to wait out the financial crisis. In 2009, the project was shelved for three to five years. After Wednesday’s six-year extension, Echelon might not appear until 2018. Caitlin McGarry, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7-19-12

 CityCenter’s half-finished Harmon Hotel received a death sentence Thursday. Concluding four days of often technical testimony, Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled that CityCenter, developed and co-owned by MGM Resorts International and Dubai World, could proceed with plans to implode the troubled building. The demolition is a business decision permitted under state law, she said. Tim O’Reiley, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7-20-12




1 Response to “The Echelon project may be dead, but Strip is very much alive”

  1. 1 Bill Hanigan July 21, 2012 at 3:13 am

    You are worried about the “Strip” when Syria is unwinding Is this an international site ? The evolving events in Syria could and will have a dramatic affect in the USA !!! What does gambling contribute to the national economy ??? Does anyone care ??

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