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Jennifer Robison

Barden Plans Expansion After Fitzgerald Acquisition

24 February 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Signs in the parking garage at Fitzgeralds in downtown Las Vegas exhort customers to "have a lucky day."

"For Barden Nevada Gaming, the 638-room hotel-casino has certainly brought good fortune.

Barden Nevada, a subsidiary of Detroit-based Barden Cos., has invested "millions" in upgrading Fitzgeralds since it bought the property in 2002, said Fitzgeralds Vice President and General Manager Mike Darley. Among the improvements: renovations to its buffet and steak house, an overhaul of its showroom and fresh paint for the exterior.

Darley said the improvements have brought a bumper crop of customers.

"Fitzgeralds has gone from a struggling property to a property that cannot handle all the business on our fourth anniversary (this) weekend," he said.

On Thursday, Don Barden, founder of the privately held Barden Cos., announced the acquisition of downtown office space that will help the company expand to accommodate more patrons. Barden Nevada has spent $13.5 million to acquire a 150,000-square-foot office building just south of Fitzgeralds, at 302 E. Carson Ave.

"This indicates our faith in downtown Las Vegas," Barden said. "The Golden Nugget is expanding and the Lady Luck is undergoing renovations. We are also positioning ourselves downtown for the future."

The new property, bought from Skanlan Kemper Bard Cos. of Portland, Ore., will both give Fitzgeralds more room to serve customers and create additional cash flow for the Barden Cos.

Barden Nevada will move its corporate headquarters from the 12th floor of Fitzgeralds to about 20,000 square feet in the Carson building. In addition to freeing space inside Fitzgeralds for a ballroom expansion or more hotel rooms, the office complex has a parking garage that will add capacity to Fitzgeralds' existing garage.

The office complex will also generate rents for Barden Nevada. The building houses the offices of several attorneys; their new landlord is encouraging them to stay, Darley said. In coming months, Barden Nevada will upgrade the lobby, build a new facade, install fresh landscaping and hire an interior designer to update suites.

Some corporate functions of Barden Cos.' other holdings around the nation will also take up residence within the Carson building.

Those holdings are poised to make Don Barden, the only black to own a national casino company, a big player in the gaming industry.

Barden's other properties include Fitzgeralds-branded casinos in Black Hawk, Colo., and Tunica, Miss. In 2005, Barden bought the Trump Indiana riverboat casino in Gary, Ind., for $253 million and renamed it the Majestic Star.

Barden said he will break ground this year on a hotel and condominium complex at the Indiana property. He'll also invest about $25 million in expanding Fitzgeralds Black Hawk's 10,000-square-foot casino, and he plans to begin construction on a hotel at the site in 2007.

Barden said he expects his 4,000-employee company's gaming holdings to post more than $500 million in revenue in 2006. He's eyeing developments that could boost that substantially.

Through subsidiary PITG Gaming, Barden is going head-to-head with Isle of Capri and Harrah's Entertainment in the battle for a license to operate a casino in Pittsburgh. PITG is proposing a Majestic Star casino that could cost as much as $425 million to build. Should PITG land the license, the Pittsburgh property could transform the company into a business with $1 billion in annual revenue within two to three years, Barden said.

And as the business grows, it plans to remain firmly entrenched in the heart of Las Vegas.

"We really believe in downtown," Darley said. "(The Carson building) was our opportunity to buy something in close proximity to Fitzgeralds."