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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Commission green-lights Sahara remodeling plan

25 February 2008

NEVADA -- Clark County commissioners this week approved remodeling plans for the Sahara, which would include a new high-rise hotel tower and the demolition of the property's older mid-rise tower.

No price has been given for the makeover, which is conceptual, according to a spokesman for SBE Entertainment Group, the operating partner of the Sahara. Los Angeles-based SBE and private equity firm Stockbridge Real Estate Funds of San Francisco purchased the Rat Pack-era Sahara last year for between $300 million and $400 million.

Since taking over the hotel-casino in August, the owners have spent $2 million to enhance the 55-year-old Sahara, which has 1,720 hotel rooms and sits on an 18-acre parcel.

The plans submitted to Clark County call for a new 520-foot hotel tower with 1,000 rooms, the renovation of the existing two high-rise hotel towers and the removal of the 200-room mid-rise tower. Upon completion, the Sahara would have 2,506 hotel rooms.

"Our plans for the Sahara are on track, and the approval by the Clark County Commission has put us one step closer to putting those plans into action," SBE Hotel Group President Arash Azarbarzin said in an e-mailed statement. "We will be giving the property a spectacular makeover, which is currently slated for completion in 2011."

The lengthy submission to the county said the Sahara would receive 92,300 feet of new construction and the existing property would be reconfigured to contain 90,000 square feet of casino space, 56,900 square feet of retail space, 78,900 square feet of restaurant space, a 19,000-square-foot entertainment venue, 26,600 square feet of nightclub space, 32,600 square feet of meeting and convention space, and a 22,600-square-foot spa and fitness center.

Azarbarzin said the improvements recently made at the Sahara have positioned the property to compete in the marketplace.

New construction is surrounding the Sahara. The $2.9 billion Fontainebleau is being built just south of the resort while Crown Ltd. of Australia is part of a group planning a $5 billion resort on the former Wet 'n Wild site next to the Sahara.

Directly across the Strip, MGM Mirage, Kerzner International Holdings and Dubai World are planning an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion resort development. Boyd Gaming Corp. is building the $4.8 billion Echelon development on the former Stardust site.

In an interview in November, Azarbarzin said the company has hired Las Vegas-based architects to look at the remodeling plans for the Morocco-themed Sahara.

"We have to understand who we are and who we are not," Azarbarzin said then. "We are a historic property. Every version of our master plan includes keeping the hotel intact. There are some areas we might take down and remodel, but you're not going to see a big implosion here."