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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Key Largo Casino Gains Approval for Condo Tower

2 November 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Another small, off-Strip casino has plans for a residential condominium tower.

The Quality Inn Key Largo Casino on Flamingo Road received Planning Commission approval last month to build a 196-foot condo tower with 905 units in addition to a 70-foot hotel tower with 344 rooms. The hotel units would replace the existing 314-room hotel. The plans don't specify whether the property's casino would be torn down or redeveloped.

The Planning Commission approval marked the final hearing on the change, which does not require approval by the Board of County Commissioners because it is not a zoning change and because the Planning Commission decision was not appealed to the board.

John Gilbert, who identified himself Monday as one of the owners of the Key Largo, declined to comment on the plans approved by the county or say who filed them. He said only that he was not involved in filing the plans nor was he part of the redevelopment entity.

The Robert L. Mayer Trust of 1982, based in Newport Beach, Calif., is listed as the owner of the property, which dates from 1974, county records show. The 4.85-acre property was purchased in 1982 for $9.5 million and was recently assessed at $10.3 million. The county plans were filed by "Quality Inn Key Largo Casino" and reference the Robert L. Mayer trust.

A land-use attorney who is assisting the redevelopment group could not be reached for comment.

The condo tower would be built atop a four-level parking garage along the west and south sides of the property. The tower would feature one-, two- and three-bedroom units, according to plans submitted with the county.

The property's casino is about 9,100 square feet, according to state records.

Also recently, another nearby property, the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery on Koval Lane, received county approvals to build a 36-story condo hotel tower with about 800 units.

Both The Ellis Island and Key Largo plans indicate that older neighborhoods near the Strip are responding to demand for high-rise condos, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter.

Both properties are known for catering to local gamblers with casino and meal deals. But their redevelopment strategies are probably very different, Curtis said.

While the Ellis Island's future plans will likely still involve its lucrative casino, the Key Largo's casino isn't as much of a draw and the property may gravitate toward the hotel business as an alternative, he said.

Ellis Island has probably maxed out its casino performance but could improve its hotel business by upgrading rooms, he said.

"The hotel could do better because it's close to the Strip," he said. "They're looking for another stream of revenue."

Owner Gary Ellis could not be reached for comment on his plans for the property.

The plans are among some 80-plus condominium, hotel or timeshare high-rises that have been proposed so far in Las Vegas. Only a handful are under construction.

Curtis said the projects are a positive sign of progress and said local gamblers will still have plenty of places to congregate even if some smaller casinos go away.

"We've gotten burned on some of these pie-in-the-sky ideas, so we don't really know what's going to happen until we see dirt move," he said.