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Benjamin Spillman

Moulin Rouge gets help

8 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- An investment firm with more than $4 billion in assets will take on one of the most vexing casino projects in Las Vegas, a revival of the long-defunct Moulin Rouge.

Republic Urban Properties LLC of Washington, D.C., will enter a joint venture with Moulin Rouge Development Corp., owners of a 15-acre site that in 1955 was home to the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas.

The deal, confirmed Thursday by Republic Urban President and Chief Executive Officer David Peter, calls for $700 million in investment for a hotel-casino on Bonanza Road east of Martin Luther King Boulevard.

If the project succeeds, it would be the culmination of decades of fitful attempts to breathe new life into one of the most culturally significant places in Las Vegas.

"The old facade and tower sign is all that will remain," Peter said. "For the most part it will be ground-up construction."

Reviving activity at the Moulin Rouge won't be easy. It's in a blighted area of downtown Las Vegas near a soup kitchen, vacant lots and boarded-up storefronts. The site is marked by a plaque detailing the history of the Moulin Rouge and occupied by the dilapidated remains of an extended-stay hotel.

The owners are scheduled to go before the Las Vegas Planning Commission on Feb. 28 with plans for a 41-story development with 1,727 hotel rooms and a 72,600-square-foot casino. They are asking for a height variance and rezoning, according to city records.

The company says the first phase of the project would include 700 rooms and 50,000 square feet of retail and spa facilities along with a restaurants, meeting and convention space, a poolside nightclub and concert venue.

It's not the first time Moulin Rouge investors have raised hopes for a revival of the bygone casino. In 2004, shortly after taking over the property in the wake of a fire that destroyed the original structure the previous year, they described plans for a 40,000-square-foot casino, a 500-room hotel, a Motown Cafe and a community center. Later that year they scaled down the plans.

Alan Glover, marketing director for the Moulin Rouge company, said Republic Urban's experience creating and reviving developments in urban cores is a good fit for the Moulin Rouge.

"Once they laid eyes on the project, they began to see the opportunity," Glover said. "They recognized the history."

Republic Urban's projects include The Portals, a $1 billion mixed-use development in Washington, D.C., that includes offices for the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, private government contractors and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a 400-room upscale hotel.

In Las Vegas the company is facing not only a challenging location but intense competition from downtown, Strip and locals casinos. Resort operators downtown have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades in recent years.

Consumer expectations are also sky-high compared with the days when Moulin Rouge first opened. Customers demand larger, nicer rooms, high-tech amenities and upscale dining in addition to a casino.

"The bar is substantially higher than it was before," said Jeremy Aguero, a principal with the Las Vegas financial consulting firm Applied Analysis. "It is going to take a substantial amount of investment to change the character and nature of the surrounding neighborhood."