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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Barrick Sees Reshaping of Fremont Street Corridor's West End

18 October 2004

It's a two-faced plan, bold and a bit disruptive.

But odds are good there will be few complainers should the first phase of Barrick Gaming Corp.'s vision for downtown Las Vegas become a reality.

One of the newest yet most active players in the local gaming industry on Friday outlined how it hopes to reshape the western end of the Fremont Street corridor. Plans call for multiple high-rise hotel and condominium towers near the Plaza, putting a new faces on today's downtown, and planned developments to the west, Barrick Gaming co-founder and President Stephen Crystal said Friday.

"You're basically talking about creating an entirely new downtown," Crystal said, citing the developing World Market Center furniture mart, Las Vegas Premium Outlets and the city's vacant 61 acres. "What we focused on was, `How can we utilize the Plaza to be, in essence, the turnstile between a new Las Vegas and old Las Vegas?' "

Here's one strategy: Barrick hopes to swap acre-for-acre vacant land it owns south of the Plaza, and separate parcels near Stewart Avenue and Sixth Street, for approximately seven acres of the city's 61 acres west of the aged downtown area.

Barrick's property south of the Plaza, which totals about 3.5 acres, would be used for the Regional Transportation Commission's planned intermodal terminal. Its land near Stewart and Sixth, which also totals about 3.5 acres now zoned for single-family residential use, would likely be used for a City Hall expansion, Crystal said.

Barrick would build several high-rise towers, an 8,000-seat arena, retail shops and pedestrian bridges around the existing Plaza tower at the end of Fremont Street, which would initially remain because of its historical significance. Should the swap fall through, Barrick would proceed with its towers, albeit in a different configuration.

Talks are under way between Barrick, the city, the Transportation Commission and The Related Cos., a New York-based developer the city last month selected to oversee plans for the 61-acre Union Park land west of Main Street and north of Bonneville Avenue. Crystal expects it will take the rest of this year to complete a land swap.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman could not be reached late Friday afternoon.

The project's size and cost have not been determined, though Crystal said it would be "world-class." He added financing is in place should land be secured.

Barrick must also work out a deal with Greyhound Lines, which has a long-term lease on a bus terminal located amid the planned expansion areas. Crystal will soon meet with Greyhound at the company's Dallas headquarters to find an alternate site for the bus station, though no relocation agreement is in place.

A longtime player in Midwestern gaming circles, Barrick Gaming in December 2002 announced its $82 million deal to buy Jackie Gaughan's Plaza, Western, Gold Spike and Las Vegas Club, two downtown Ambassador East motels and 35 acres of accompanying land. The deal also included an option to purchase the El Cortez.

All of the properties were owned in whole or in part by Gaughan, though the estate of the late Mel Exber held a stake in several properties.

Progress on the purchases came slowly last year, and Gaughan's son, Coast Casinos Chairman Michael Gaughan, at one point questioned Barrick's ability to raise the necessary funding. But Barrick Gaming completed the deal in March 2004, telling state gaming regulators it secured international financial partners and would spend "hundreds of millions of dollars" to improve its new holdings.

Crystal said Friday a $10 million renovation at the Las Vegas Club and Plaza is nearly complete.

The company also revealed the Gaughan properties were purchased with joint-venture partner Tamares Real Estate, a privately owned investment group with offices in London, New York, and Tel Aviv, Israel, among others.

On Monday, Barrick and Tamares extended their downtown holdings by announcing a long-discussed deal to buy the Queen of Hearts and Nevada hotel-casinos was complete. The two properties, which total 260 rooms, were bought for a combined $7.1 million.