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Gaming Guru

Eric Hartley
 

Clark County may force cosmetic 'wrap' on Fontainebleau

4 November 2015

The Fontainebleau Las Vegas, the hulking unfinished resort that's sat on the east side of the Strip for six years, might soon be a bit less of an eyesore.

This week, Clark County commissioners could use a procedural move to force the owners to put up a giant cosmetic "wrap" that hides the building's rusting, 68-story skeleton from passersby.

"Enough is enough," said Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who represents the area.

Exactly what the wrap would look like isn't clear. Giunchigliani said she's willing to discuss details, but that it has to be "something that makes it stop looking like a mini-Beirut on the north end of the Strip."

A similar wrap sits over another unfinished Strip project, the St. Regis condominiums. It's a fancy — and expensive — version of putting a slipcover on a ratty couch.

Billionaire Carl Icahn, who bought the Fontainebleau out of bankruptcy in 2010, didn't immediately return a message left at his New York office Tuesday.

The Fontainebleau was planned to be a 3,800-room hotel-casino. But the development went bankrupt in 2009 when it was 70 percent finished.

Giunchigliani would have pushed the owners years ago to make the site look better, but she had no legal leverage until now.

Icahn is seeking another extension of the time he has to do expensive "offsite" improvements that would have been required had the resort been completed. Giunchigliani said that work could include lighting, sidewalk widening and perhaps a pedestrian crossing.

The county already has granted at least five such extensions, records show.

But county staff denied the latest extension request last year. Icahn's holding company, Icahn NV Gaming Acquisition LLC, is appealing that denial to the Board of County Commissioners, which will consider the case at a public meeting Wednesday morning.

If commissioners refuse to grant the extension, the county can have the offsite work done itself using money the owners already set aside to pay for it.

That could cost Icahn far more than doing a cosmetic wrap, a fact Giunchigliani hopes will convince him to make a deal. The offer is simple: Agree in writing to put up a wrap, and you get your extension.

On Monday afternoon, Giunchigliani said she had not gotten word of an agreement and has dealt only with intermediaries, not with Icahn himself. But with the matter already having been postponed four times since August, she said she won't support another delay.

"I told them this is it," Giunchigliani said of this week's meeting.

The only major change since Icahn bought the Fontainebleau was last year's removal of a construction crane.

The building has become a notorious eyesore and has likely hurt the business of SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which sits to its north. Any tourist venturing to SLS from the heart of the Strip would have to walk past the foreboding shell of the Fontainebleau.

In theory, the Fontainebleau could come back to life.

"The project remains on hold until the owners believe the economy has made a sufficient recovery," county staff wrote in summarizing the owners' justification for the extension request.

But analysts think Icahn is simply waiting until he can sell the Fontainebleau — and more importantly, the land under it — for enough of a profit. Then it would likely be torn down to make way for the Strip's next big bet.

Giunchigliani and other county commissioners have dealt with the headaches posed by massive unfinished resorts for years since the recession put a stop to several.

The top of the St. Regis condo building between The Venetian Las Vegas and The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino was draped in 2011 with a "million-dollar tarp": cloth printed with the image of a finished building. To Strip visitors, the building's most prominent feature is now an enormous ground-floor Walgreens.

The St. Regis' owners, Las Vegas Sands Corp., didn't have to be pressured into putting the wrap on the building, which sits between the company's two high-end resorts.

Company president Michael Leven, whose office has a view of the St. Regis tower, said last year: "I couldn't stand looking at that steel."