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Best of Benjamin Spillman

Gaming Guru

Benjamin Spillman
 

Lady Luck owners granted extension

19 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Owners of a shuttered Las Vegas casino raised the stakes on their pitch to revive the property in downtrodden downtown, with help from an internationally known hotel operator and 5.5 acres of city-owned land.

Whether owners of Lady Luck casino are bluffing won't be known for more than 60 days, however, when their pledge to reveal the company they say will bring credibility and prestige to their listing downtown property is due.

For their part, the Las Vegas City Council remains in the game.

That group voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend for 90 days an agreement that gives Lady Luck's owners exclusive negotiating rights to purchase public property at Frank Wright Plaza, an area along Stewart Avenue between Casino Center Boulevard and Fourth Street near City Hall.

The council approved the extension despite signs members are growing weary of Lady Luck's owners promising their plans are still on track despite numerous changes, missed deadlines and financing hiccups.

"It is like having a carcass outside my window when you look out there and don't see anything happening," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said before the vote.

Andrew Donner, speaking for several entities involved in the revival project, said his group is close to announcing a partnership with a recognized hospitality firm to operate a hotel operating at the site by the end of 2008.

What they wanted from the city was an extension to the exclusive negotiating right to buy the property across Stewart Avenue for use in the development project. The property includes a park called Frank Wright Plaza, a historic post office building that is under renovation into a museum and a bus depot.

It was the fourth such extension from the council. Donner, who said owners of the Lady Luck project include companies named Resort Gaming Group, Downtown Resorts and Frank Wright LLC, acknowledged that financing questions and changes to plans for the site have eroded the public's confidence in the proposal.

"The perception that we put out in the marketplace is that this project is delayed and possibly not moving forward," he said. "I never wanted to over promise and under deliver."

With the extension, Donner gained three months to make good on his promises, the latest of which he made Wednesday with the announcement that a major hotel operator was poised to participate.

Although there is not yet an appraisal of the city property, Scott Adams, director of business services, said downtown land has recently sold for around $100 per square foot. At that value the land in question would be worth about $23 million.

Opened as Honest John's in 1961, the Lady Luck took its current name in 1968. It was expanded in 1972, 1982 and 1985, according to Downtown Resorts' Web site, www.bebacksoon.info.

It has had three owners since then, including Downtown Resorts, which bought the property in April 2005 under the name Henry Brent Co.

In June, Canyon Capital of Beverly Hills, Calif., loaned Downtown Resorts $66 million for the renovation.

After the meeting Donner declined to elaborate other than to say he would provide details in the next 60 days. "I don't want to make any comment," Donner said.

But even with a recognized hotel operator, Donner faces a complex task.

Changes to the site of the old post office need to be approved by the National Park Service to ensure they conform to the historic nature of that building. Donner also said developers need to work with the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Commission.

They will also need to get updated permits to work on the shuttered Lady Luck, a property that includes structures on both sides of Third Street and has several owners and lenders.

"It is a very complex project," Adams said.

It also appeared at the meeting Wednesday that Donner and city officials don't see eye-to-eye on the look of the project. City officials want a pedestrian bridge over Third Street removed to make the historic post office more visible from the Fremont Street Experience. They also want to make sure Stewart Avenue and Ogden Street remain open to traffic.

Donner sidestepped differences saying the property is already encumbered with easement requirements and other restrictions that call for access between structures via the bridge and project participants could push for a design that would impact the streets.

"Even if I wanted to meet the (city's) request I legally can't meet the request," he said. "All we want to do is look at all the possibilities."ght not want to let them do."