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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A Hollywood movie producer, restaurateur and nightclub owner has bought the aging Moroccan-themed Sahara, the Review-Journal learned Friday night.
Sam Nazarian, through his Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment Group, agreed to purchase the Sahara from the family of late casino pioneer William Bennett.
No purchase price was disclosed, but sources said the transaction was between $300 million and $400 million for the 17.45-acre parcel on the Strip that includes the 1,720-room hotel-casino.
John Knott, executive vice president of the Global Gaming Group for CB Richard Ellis, which was retained last year to sell the Sahara, said SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge Real Estate Funds had signed a contract Friday.
"They have some tremendous renovation plans for the Sahara, which made them a very compelling buyer," Knott said.
Nazarian, whose corporation includes a restaurant business, a trendy nightclub operation, a hotel group, a real estate division and a Hollywood production company, was the youngest executive to be named one of the "Top 100 Most Powerful People in Southern California" by West, the Los Angeles Times' Sunday magazine, last year.
In addition to several Los Angeles-area nightclubs, Nazarian's hotel division includes the Ritz Plaza in Miami's South Beach area and the Le Meridien in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Nazarian is also a partner in an independent production company, Element Films, which has a nine-picture distribution agreement with Lionsgate. He is listed as the executive producer on "Mr. Brooks," which stars Kevin Costner, Demi Moore and William Hurt and is expected to open this year.
A spokesman for Nazarian could not be reached for comment, but in an e-mail exchange with Bloomberg News Service, SBE spokesman Michael Doneff said, "We have not yet finalized our redevelopment plans. Capital investment, timeline of improvements, what will be upgraded, theme changing -- none of these can be answered right now."
According to a statement, SBE plans to manage the hotel and its food and beverage operations. Longtime Nevada gaming executive Larry Woolf, through his Navegante Group management company, will operate the casino under a lease arrangement. Woolf could not be reached for comment.
The Sahara opened in 1952 with a performance by Ray Bolger, who played The Scarecrow in the "Wizard of Oz." Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the casino's Congo Showroom played host to such acts as Pat Boone, Connie Francis and Don Rickles. It was also the home of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.
The Del Webb Corp. sold the Sahara in 1982 to Paul Lowden, who added two hotel towers and ran the resort into the 1990s.
Gordon Gaming has managed the Sahara since Bill Bennett bought the property in 1995 for $193 million. Bennett immediately spent more than $100 million to upgrade the resort.
After Bennett's death in 2003, his widow, Lynn Bennett, and her brother, Al Hummel, took over operation of the Sahara. Lynn Bennett died on Dec. 2.
In September, before bringing CB Richard Ellis aboard, Gordon Gaming sent a letter to one prospective bidder, saying the Bennett family wanted at least $700 million for the Sahara and its three land parcels: the nearly 18-acre Sahara site, 25.84 acres directly across from the hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard, and 11.31 acres east of the Sahara on Paradise Road. The Bennett family is retaining the other two parcels in the current transaction.
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