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Obstacles gone for Crown Resort tower

6 December 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A proposal to build the tallest hotel tower in Las Vegas is no longer flying under the radar.

With the preliminary blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration, Clark County commissioners on Wednesday approved a proposal for a resort with a 1,064-foot tower at the north end of the Strip.

The approval gives developers of the Crown Las Vegas Resort Hotel & Casino authority to move forward with a scaled-down plan of their original proposal for an 1,888-foot tower, which would have been the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

It's a big step forward for a proposal that's been overshadowed by the planned CityCenter, Echelon and Plaza megaresorts. But it's no less ostentatious in scope.

"I would expect you'll start hearing a lot more about Crown Las Vegas now that this has approval," said Bill Lerner, a Las Vegas-based gaming analyst at Deutsche Bank.

The current proposal calls for what developers say would be the tallest hotel building in the United States. The Stratosphere tower is about 100 feet taller than the proposed Crown tower but doesn't have hotel rooms.

Crown would have as many as 5,000 rooms, a 250,000-square-foot casino, a 3,000-square-foot showroom, meeting space and retail.

Developers say the first phase could open as early as 2011 with another phase in 2013. It would be just south of the Sahara near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue on the former Wet 'n Wild site.

The proposed $5 billion project is a joint venture between Texas-based developer Christopher Milam and Australian billionaire James Packer, who has casinos in Macau, Canada and Down Under.

"I think (Packer) wants to do something here in Vegas," said Lerner.

Milam already has an agreement to buy the site for $475 million. Last year Clark County planning commissioners approved the plan for the 1,888-foot tower in concept, but only if the FAA was on board. The taller version didn't fly with officials from the FAA and McCarran International Airport who felt it would conflict with air traffic above Las Vegas. That stifled enthusiasm for the project because it eroded confidence it would ever be built.

With developers and aviation officials in apparent agreement and the Clark County Commission on board, those hurdles are gone, Lerner said.

Concerns from neighbors and doubts about just how the project will proceed remain.

The revised proposal the county approved Wednesday is highlighted by one large tower centrally located on the site. The height restriction, more than 800 feet lower than the original proposal, could prompt developers to want more than one tower.

If so, it would make for a much different look.

"It could be crap. They could change everything," said Harvey Gerber, who lives on the 29th floor of nearby Turnberry Place. "They could have buildings in front of your windows."

Gerber was one of three Turnberry residents who spoke before the county board. None opposed the project outright. But they all said they hoped the developers would do their best to minimize the impact on local residents.

To that end, they sought conditions to prevent overnight construction, study traffic on Paradise Road and ensure Turnberry residents access into and out of their approximately 800-unit, multitower community. The commission attached conditions to their approval to ensure the neighbors' voices are heard.

Las Vegas attorney Christopher Kaempfer, who represented the developers before the commission, said neighbors would have the opportunity to be heard should the proposal undergo changes.

"If we decide to do a second tower, we'd have to come back," Kaempfer said.