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Arnold M. Knightly

Developer downscales tower plans

24 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The dream of having the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere on the old Wet 'n Wild site fronting the Strip has apparently ended for a Texas-based developer.

The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a request from Christopher Milam, a partner in the proposed Crown Las Vegas project, to reduce the proposed project's planned height from the initial 1,888 feet to 1,150 feet, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. Milam sent a letter formally reducing the project's proposed height on Sept. 14.

Crown Las Vegas is a partnership between Milam's Austin, Texas-based IDM Properties, Australian billionaire James Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd., and New York-based private equity firm York Capital Management.

Milam declined to comment while the process is ongoing.

The FAA issued a notice on Nov. 4 saying any structure on the site that exceeds 708 feet would pose a hazard to air traffic in the area.

Clark County does not issue a waiver to allow any structure to exceed the FAA's recommendation as a matter of policy.

The FAA was preparing a final report on the 1,888-foot tower proposal after months of gathering comments from various entities, including airlines and property owners around the site, when it received Milam's letter.

The request set off a new look at the height request even though it is for the same location. If the FAA issues a second notice of "presumed hazard," a new study could take another several months to complete.

Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation, said the department has met with the developer during the past year to discuss issues surrounding the project.

However, he said it would be inappropriate for the department to discuss acceptable heights with the developer because it is the FAA's role to determine acceptable height limits in areas navigation areas.

"We are not going to negotiate safety," Walker said. "Our position is that you have to file your request with the FAA."

Walker noted that every high-rise hotel on the Strip had to go through the same process as Crown Las Vegas.

Federal law requires any structure in the United States built over 200 feet has to be reviewed by the FAA.

Crown Las Vegas' proposed 1,150-foot hotel tower for the 27-acre site would still be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and a foot taller than the Stratosphere, which is less than a mile north on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Gregor said the project's proximity to a second structure of similar height will not affect his agency's recommendation.

"Every case has to be reviewed on its unique circumstances," Gregor said. "You really can't make a boilerplate statement about the effects another tall building nearby would have on a proposal for a tall tower."

The Wet 'n Wild site is currently being leased by its owner, Archon Corp., as a construction site for the neighboring $2.8 billion Fontainebleau project.

Milam and Archon entered into an option agreement in June 2006 of $450 million for the site. The price was raised in the summer to $475 million adjusting for rising land costs.

Milam, who announced the partnership with Packer and York Capital in May, brought plans for the 1,888-foot tower before the Clark County Planning Commission in November. The commission approved the $5 billion, 5,000-unit mixed-use project for use permits and design reviews pending a FAA decision.