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Howard Stutz

Heading on with Echelon

13 March 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Robert Boughner knows comparisons will be made between Boyd Gaming Corp.'s planned $4.4 billion Echelon Place development and the $7 billion Project CityCenter that MGM Mirage is constructing a few miles south on the Strip.

He only hopes the reviews are positive.

Boughner, the president of Echelon who is overseeing the complex's planning, has been through a similar drill. During the initial stages of Boyd Gaming's development of the Borgata in Atlantic City, which he also led, Boughner said competition and the media placed labels on the project long before the resort was under construction.

Upon its opening in 2003, analysts viewed Borgata as an industry-changing resort in the New Jersey gaming market.

"Echelon is going to be very different from Borgata," Boughner said Monday. "But Borgata allowed us to hone our development skills, which we had been working on for years. Like we did with Borgata, we are carefully assessing what is right for the market."

Early Tuesday morning, demolition crews were expected to implode the 32-story shell that was once the Stardust hotel tower, one of the final steps in clearing the 87-acre Echelon site for a mid-to-late-June formal ground breaking.

Boughner said renderings and designs for Echelon would be revealed then, but he cautioned against expecting Echelon to have a theme attached to its architecture.

"I think to use word theme in relationship to Echelon is inappropriate," Boughner said. "Echelon, in terms of architecture, is more about designing a building that will evoke an emotion. A theme doesn't evoke an emotion, it evokes a cheap thrill. The best buildings in the world are designed to appeal to our sense of beauty."

Originally, Echelon was going to cover 63 acres. But a land swap with Harrah's Entertainment completed last month gave Boyd Gaming planners another 24 acres to develop. Boughner said the extra land will also allow for development of roadways to help alleviate any traffic congestion through the site.

Project CityCenter is being built on 66 acres with a 4,000-room hotel-casino as the centerpiece, surrounded by shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and several boutique hotels. Echelon will also have multiple hotels; the 3,400-room centerpiece Echelon resort and four smaller boutique style hotels.

But unlike CityCenter, which is selling 2,700 high-rise condominiums, residences are absent from Echelon.

Boughner said that not only would Echelon be compared with CityCenter, but also with Wynn Las Vegas and its accompanying $2 billion Encore, which is expected to open in 2009.

"I think certain comparisons are inevitable," Boughner said. "I think it's likely there will be comparisons between CityCenter, Echelon, the Wynn-Encore campus, and any other projects that come along in the future that are developed along this scale."

Although residences could be part of the 22 acres Boyd Gaming is setting aside for future plans, for now Echelon is being designed for a combined 5,000 hotel rooms, a 140,000-square-foot casino, 300,000 square feet of retail, 750,000 square feet of convention and meeting facilities and some 30 dining, nightlife and entertainment venues. The project is slated to open in 2010.

Boughner said having smaller, boutique-style hotels as part of the overall Echelon development is a trend starting to take shape in the Las Vegas market. The smaller hotels include brands new to Las Vegas, such as Shangri-La, Delano, Mondrian and a yet-to-be-named all-suite hotel.

"Rather than create 5,000 rooms in one big box, it was much more important to create five different sensibilities," Boughner said. "There are a variety of hotel sizes and experiences. The casino and the retail surround all the hotels giving a sense of connection."

Gaming analysts believe Echelon's development will heighten interest in Boyd Gaming.

Prudential Equity Group analyst Joel Simkins said Boyd Gaming executives gave him a preview of Echelon last week.

"Overall, we think management has done a good job of insuring that the property will benefit from multiple ingress and egress points on the Strip and from Industrial Boulevard," Simkins said. "In our view, strong ingress and egress is paramount in megaresort development and investors can look at some of the failures on the Strip, such as the Aladdin, to understand just how important this can be."

Boughner said he's ready for the comparisons.

"Frankly we'd be flattered if it's positive," Boughner said. "And we believe it will be."