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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Sands Starts Own Big Dig for Palazzo

21 September 2005

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is taking its Palazzo underground.

As development in Las Vegas goes vertical stacking story on story, Sands Corp. has gone downward, below the earth, to begin construction of its $1.8 billion Strip resort.

When completed in 2007, the Palazzo will rise 50 stories above the Strip. But the planned 3,025-room hotel-casino will also drop 68 feet below Las Vegas Boulevard.

Through its in-house construction company, Las Vegas Sands has spent 13 months excavating more than 1 million cubic yards of dirt from a 14-acre parcel near the intersection of the Strip and Sands Avenue.

The pit will be transformed into a four-story, 4,400-space parking garage underneath the Palazzo.

Las Vegas Sands Executive Vice President Brad Stone said the excavating project added between $50 million and $60 million to the price of the Palazzo, but it was well worth the cost.

"This was born out of necessity," Stone said. "We wanted to have a certain size property and we only had so much land to work with. We realized we had to put the parking underground, so we came up with a plan and put it in place. When you look at the cost of an acre of land on the Strip, you need to make your best usage of that land."

Visitors to the Palazzo using the underground parking will take elevators or escalators from the garage and land in the center of the property's planned 105,000-square-foot casino.

"We have to pay a premium, but the end experience for the customer is terrific because they come up right in the middle of the property," Stone said.

Las Vegas Sands consulted with several engineering firms in planning the project, Stone said, which is the first of its kind on the Strip. Development of this type of underground parking is common in Manhattan.

"The challenge for everybody was that it hadn't been done here," Stone said. "This is certainly deeper down than anyone has ever gone."

Subterranean testing was conducted throughout the 14 acres to gauge what was underneath. Stone said very little caliche, natural cement prevalent in the Las Vegas Valley, was found at the site, which saved Las Vegas Sands additional excavation costs.

"You do the testing, but you really never know," Stone said.

The yearlong dig resulted in roughly 7,000 cubic yards of dirt per day -- 65 to 75 dump trucks -- being moved from the Palazzo site.

Some of the dirt went to the Nevada Department of Transportation for use in highway construction. Soil that was contaminated went to an environmental cleanup site while the rest was trucked to landfills.

As the excavation progressed, Las Vegas Sands constructed secant walls to form the sides of the parking garage. The walls will be held in place by the parking garage floors.

The company is readying the Palazzo's foundation, which includes several hundred pilings that will form the building's structural footings. The pilings are being drilled down another 120 feet.

While the completed hotel tower will rise 50 stories, that doesn't include the multilevels for retail, the casino and the planned pool deck.

Construction has also begun on the hotel tower's main elevator shaft, and pouring the concrete for that project's foundation took the entire Labor Day weekend to complete.

"We had to reserve all the concrete capacity in Las Vegas and that was a 10,000-yard pour," said Stuart Mason, vice president of development for Las Vegas Sands.

He said the average truck carries 12 yards of concrete and 800 trucks, running continuously, were used for the project.

Stone said visible construction of the Palazzo tower should begin by this winter as the underground parking garage is completed. He said building the tower should be a quick process because the company is using steel, about 66,000 tons, as the predominate building material.

Stone said one urban myth was proven false during the Palazzo excavation; an underground river was not found below the site.

"We found a little natural water but no river," Stone said. "With the size of the hole we dug, that would have made for one hell of a swimming pool."