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Aztar's Plans Concern Union

23 May 2003

by Rod Smith

LAS VEGAS --The Clark County Commission has scheduled a June 18 public hearing on Aztar's Corp.'s proposed plans for its much-rumored $700 million redevelopment of the Tropicana resort.

Tropicana Enterprises, a subsidiary of Aztar and owner of the existing resort, recently submitted redevelopment plans to the commission, even though Aztar officials have insisted no final decision has been made yet on whether or not to redevelop the Strip property.

Aztar's recent moves, however, are raising concerns among Culinary Union members, who are upset the company is refusing to negotiate a new contract that will guarantee the resort's current employees will be retained if the hotel is redeveloped.

An estimated 2,000 demonstrators Thursday evening were expected to protest the company's refusal to sign a new contract.

About 1,100 Culinary Union 226 workers at the company's Tropicana Las Vegas have been without a contract since last June although all the economic issues have been settled in collective bargaining sessions on the same terms as other Strip properties, Culinary spokesman Chris Bohner said.

However, the union is insisting that current workers be given preference in hiring if the Tropicana is redeveloped and reopened, he said.

"What we're looking for is protection for existing workers who have been here for 10, 15, 20 years," Bohner said.

"We want them to get first shot at the redeveloped hotel. They're keeping the Tropicana going now and the company should honor the loyalty of its long-term employees," he said.

No plans have been made for the Culinary to strike the Tropicana, but Bohner described Thursday's rally as a "first step" that could lead to pickets and ultimately a work stoppage.

Union officials said Aztar's refusal to make rehiring commitments to existing employees has been the sticking point in the collective bargaining sessions.

Culinary officials said the company is arguing that it has not completed plans for the redevelopment of the property.

The company declined to comment Thursday.

However, Greg Borgel, a Las Vegas land use consultant working for WAT&G Inc., the architect and consulting group for the project, said the documents submitted to the county only represent a "conceptual plan" and are part of an entitlement process that is "part of Aztar's evaluation of what, when and how they will build" a new or redeveloped resort at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and the Strip.

"(The plans are) just one element in their decision about going forward," he said.

Preliminary to the scheduled hearing, the Clark County Planning Department staff recently approved use permits for a "Resort Hotel Addition/Expansion" for the Tropicana.

The use permits provide for partially demolishing and rebuilding the existing hotel and casino, including adding a 401-foot, 720,000-square-foot tower with an added 2,550 rooms.

The plans detail replacing the north portion of the existing Tropicana resort.

The south portion of the resort would retain its 820-room tower, bringing the total rooms to 3,370, up from the resort's present 1,875 rooms.

WAT&G filed several supporting reports with its application.

A police service report filed with the material said the "construction will proceed in one phase and the opening is scheduled for the second quarter of 2006.

Many industry officials agree the Tropicana appears to be moving forward with plans to redevelop the property. Aztar has also confirmed that it no longer is booking convention business past May 2004.

The plans submitted by WAT&G project that approximately 5,000 temporary jobs would be created during a 24-month construction process and the resort would employ 3,000 workers when complete.

The Tropicana now employs about 2,000 workers. About 1,100 of the workers are members of the Culinary and Bartenders' unions, 200 are members of other unions and 700 are nonunion employees.

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