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Chris Jones

Another Bit of Yesterday Blown Away

17 November 2004

and Rod Smith

Another chapter in Las Vegas' colorful history closed beneath a cloud of dust and rubble early Tuesday morning following the implosion of the Desert Inn's nine-story Palms and St. Andrews towers.

On a cool but windless autumn evening, a series of explosive blasts disrupted an unusually quiet Strip shortly after 2:30 a.m. As hundreds of bystanders and Las Vegas police officers looked on, the last recognizable elements of the shuttered hotel-casino quickly crashed to the ground.

"I expected it to take a little longer," said Karen Smith, a tourist from Gulf Shores, Ala., who walked more than 1 1/2 miles from her hotel room at the Stratosphere to witness the spectacle. Her boyfriend, David Wilson, compared the scene to the aftermath of the recent hurricanes that ravaged the Gulf Coast.

"It's sad to see it go. There aren't a lot of the historic places left in this city," said Wilson, who added progress seems to accompany profits in Las Vegas.

Developer Steve Wynn, who in 2000 bought the Desert Inn for $270 million from Starwood Hotels & Resorts, has since removed most of the property's older structures to clear space for Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.5 billion megaresort scheduled to open April 28.

The towers were brought down Tuesday morning to make way for a second phase expansion at Wynn Las Vegas that will include a 1,500-suite tower tentatively named Encore.

In addition to the added rooms, the new tower will feature two restaurants, a spa, retail and convention space.

Wynn Resorts said the new tower is expected to open in 2007. The company said Tuesday it will take eight weeks to 10 weeks to clean up the implosion's debris, 80 percent of which will re recycled for concrete, steel, copper and aluminium.

Patrick Clauss, president of San Diego-based Clauss Construction, was tasked with bringing down the tower. After placing approximately 225 pounds of explosives, his company finished the job in roughly six seconds. "It's not the biggest implosion, but it's the only one going on tonight," Tim Kelahan, a firefighter from Anchorage, Alaska, said as he leaned from his mother's minivan to get a better view of the action. "At least we can say, 'Hey, we were there.' "

Even as the Desert Inn sank in a cloud of dust, Wynn Las Vegas was proceeding with hiring the 9,000 workers it will take to open the megaresort.

Wynn Resorts Chief Human Resources Officer Arte Nathan said the company has received 55,642 electronic job applications online and another 4,900 from individuals who went into the company's employment center to use a computer or get help applying.

Only 3,800 applicants have been from outside the market.

So far, 15,000 face-to-face follow-up job interviews have been scheduled.

"This type of volume is unbelievable in just two weeks. It's scary almost," Nathan said. "We were hopeful there was a new world out there, but this is going to change the entire dynamic of recruiting workers. I'm glad we tried (the nationwide Internet recruiting system set up by Recruit Max)."

Nathan cautioned workers interested in jobs at Wynn Las Vegas that they need to complete their applications by the end of the year to make sure they are seriously considered.

"This is not first-come, first-serve, but managing the numbers is incredible," he said.

Wynn in October 2001 imploded a separate 14-story tower at the Desert Inn to make way for his new project then known as Le Reve.

With Tuesday morning's implosion of the two towers, the Desert Inn joined a long list of one-time Las Vegas icons that today exist only in memories and old photographs or films.

In recent years, the Dunes, Hacienda, Sands and Landmark -- were previously imploded to make way for Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, The Venetian and a parking lot, respectively.