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Gaming Guru

Hubble Smith

Celebrity Chef Plans $400 Million Project

7 April 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Celebrity chef and entrepreneur Charlie Palmer has always liked the restaurant business because he could see immediate results of his work.

He's going to have to wait a couple of years in his newest endeavor.

Palmer, owner of Aureole at Mandalay Bay and Charlie Palmer Steak at Four Seasons, plans to build Charlie Palmer Hotel, a 35-story boutique nongaming condo-hotel, on three acres at Tropicana Avenue and Dean Martin Drive, the site of the Golden Palm hotel.

The $400 million development is scheduled to break ground later this year, with completion expected in mid-2008.

The condo-hotel will have 400 to 500 rooms, mostly studio and one-bedroom units ranging from 550 square feet to 800 square feet and priced from the high $400,000s.

Palmer said his hotel would be a true boutique product in a city of 4,000-room megaresorts and would be heavy on amenities, much like the 55-room Hotel Healdsburg he built three years ago in California's Sonoma County.

Unlike similar projects announced in Las Vegas such as Las Ramblas, Cosmopolitan, Project CityCenter, Echelon Place and Hard Rock Hotel, Charlie Palmer Hotel would be completely self-contained and not part of a larger master plan.

"Our focus is obviously not on gaming. Our focus is on the guest experience, not walking them through a casino and getting them to game," Palmer said at Turnberry Place's Stirling Club, where he runs the food and beverage operations.

"We're looking at someone who spends time in Las Vegas and wants to own a piece of Las Vegas and be in an atmosphere where they're really taken care of when they're here," he added.

The hotel will have three restaurants, including Palmer's first sushi bar, a sky lounge, event space on the top floor, a night club and cigar bar. Guest amenities include a full-service health spa, hair salon, 24-hour concierge service, express check-in and sommelier service.

"What we're doing is the next natural progression for Las Vegas, the truly boutique hotel focused on high-end amenities for the traveler and purchaser," Palmer said. "As Las Vegas has grown the whole resort experience, this is the next phase."

Palmer's partners in the project include Marvin Lipschultz, who owns the land; Bill Richardson, former Mandalay Resort executive and owner of W.A. Richardson Construction; and Dan Juba, principal of Las Vegas-based Klai Juba Architects. He's also got Adam Tihany, who did the interior design for Aureole and the high-end buffet concept at The Mirage.

Richard Femenella is controller and chief financial officer of Charlie Palmer Group, which moved its headquarters from New York to 4510 W. Diablo in Las Vegas. John Sharpe, chief operating officer with Four Seasons for 22 years, is joining the hotel management. Doug Lien of DEL Consulting Limited is handling Clark County compliance matters.

"We wanted to make sure we have all the right players in place," Palmer said. "We all know how important it is for the builder, the architect and the designer to work in synch with each other."

Palmer, ranked among the 100 most powerful celebrities in the United States by Forbes magazine, played an integral role in the evolution of upscale dining in Las Vegas, opening Aureole at Mandalay Bay in the late 1990s.

With 11 restaurants from New York to California, Palmer has "quietly created an empire" with the help of investor Oliver Grace, great-nephew of W.R. Grace, Forbes wrote. His pay was listed at $4.7 million.

Coming soon is a line of high-end grocery stores where shoppers are greeted by a maitre d' and treated with the kind of service they would find as diners at one of Palmer's restaurants. The first is scheduled to open in Las Vegas.