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Gaming Guru

Arnold M. Knightly
 

Unfinished business across Vegas raises ire

22 January 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- What was to be a routine item on the Clark County Zoning Board's consent agenda Wednesday turned into a discussion about urban blight and what kind of message all the unfinished projects around town are sending.

Wyndham Vacation Resorts received a three-year extension until May 2013 to resume construction on its Desert Blue project, which includes a gaming overlay.

Wyndham, which halted work in February, had sought a six-year extension. A nine-story shell of a building sits on 14.75 acres on Twain Avenue adjacent to the Rio and is visible from Interstate 15.

Las Vegas resident Greg Esposito requested the project be given a six-month extension and that it be wrapped to make it look better.

He told commissioners the construction site "really speaks to urban blight" as people drive by it every day.

"A half-done building has never really stood in the middle of the community," Esposito told the commission Wednesday. "If I was somebody who wanted to invest in this town and I saw that out my window, I would be reluctant to buy because I would question the economic stability of Clark County."

Esposito added: "For tourists and visitors to our town, it doesn't send a good message."

Zoning commissioners expressed their own concerns about all the unfinished projects dotting the local landscape.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani noted that there are no laws on the books regulating unfinished projects but said the county may need to look at establishing ordinances to compel owners to wrap unfinished buildings to protect the steel and hide a potential eyesore.

Giunchigliani and Commissioner Steve Sisolak both questioned how long a steel frame on an unfinished building can be exposed to weather without sustaining damage that might require it to be torn down.

"Is it going to have to come down in six years?" Sisolak said. "I was told that was an issue, that it can only withstand the elements for so long, then it's got to be (torn down)."

Sisolak noted that Boyd Gaming has taken steps to protect the steel frame on its Echelon project, another stalled project on the north end of the Strip. The county's development services requires a yearly analysis of unfinished sites to ensure that the steel and other parts of the project exposed to weather remain structurally sound, county building officials told the commissioners. No clear answer on how long steel could be exposed without hurting its integrity was given.

Giunchigliani also suggested the county might need to consider regulating how long cranes can remain up at stalled project sites.

The Wyndham Desert Blue's initial phase was slated for completion early this year. The project was announced in April 2008 as a 19-story tower with 281 condominium-style units with a pool, recreation room, computer library, game room and fitness center.

The land is entitled for four towers, a nine-story parking structure, 70,000-square-foot casino and various amenities, including restaurants and meeting space. The initial phase, however, did not include a casino.

Wyndham's attorney, Bill Curran, told the commissioners that the company is trying to find a way to restart construction on the billion-dollar project but that money isn't available.

"We've been talking with the (county) building department," Curran, a partner in the law firm Ballard Spahr, said. "We realize nobody's ever going to allow anybody to go forward with a building that isn't structurally sound. But on the other hand, no amount of wishing is going to let (Wyndham) or our other major companies go forward right now. They just don't have the resources."

Wyndham has a secured fence around the project and on-site security, Curran said, as well as a representative from the contractor in the construction trailer daily.

Esposito, a state lobbyist for the plumbers and pipefitters local union, noted that other developers have taken action to help prevent stalled projects from becoming eyesores.

Harrah's Entertainment, for example, completed external work on its new tower at Caesars Palace before suspending construction, and the city of Las Vegas forced the developers of the stalled Lady Luck project to demolish an old concrete-and-steel structure on the downtown site.