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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Partnership plans housing for casino workers

14 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- MGM Mirage, in partnership with developers American Nevada Company and Diamond Resorts, plans to build affordable housing for casino workers on about 160 acres the company owns in Jean.

The move comes somewhat as a surprise, given that MGM Mirage could have fetched a high price for selling its two Jean casinos about 25 miles from the Strip.

As a first step, MGM Mirage will close Nevada Landing - the smaller of the two casinos - April 18 and keep open the Gold Strike. It, too, will eventually close to make way for a master-planned community to take shape over the next two to three years and a new locals-style casino.

MGM Mirage executives say the development is a departure from its customary practices but one that will serve a critical need in Las Vegas.

"The days of looking at real estate in terms of, 'How much acreage do I have to build a casino hotel' are over," said Jim Murren, MGM Mirage president and chief financial officer. "That is not smart development or reflective of the issues and challenges we have in terms of transportation, water, building costs and housing, which has become out of reach for many people."

Developers envision a high-density community of single-family houses and condominiums, some set aside for MGM Mirage workers commuting to the Strip. The development will feature retail stores as well as a locals-style casino.

MGM Mirage - the state's largest taxpayer and private employer - is considering providing transportation to ferry workers to their jobs, as it has done with employees at Primm. MGM Mirage built apartments and rented them at a discount to Primm employees, shuttling workers from Las Vegas to the casino. The company is selling the Primm casinos for $400 million.

"When we talk to our workers, issues No. 1 and No. 2 are housing and health care," Murren said.

Casinos have been studying affordable housing for years, acknowledging the struggles of workers who can't afford homes in a still-robust housing market.

Murren said the decision to build housing in Jean probably wouldn't have been contemplated years ago, when financing wasn't as flexible and home prices were much lower.

The community will take longer to build than expected for typical housing developments because developers intend to incorporate environmentally friendly building techniques, unique home designs, greenbelts and other features, Murren said.

American Nevada Company built the Green Valley and Seven Hills communities in Henderson and is also known for developing The District, the first project in the valley to combine residential units with commercial buildings. The company is owned by the Greenspun family, which also owns the Las Vegas Sun.

Diamond Resorts, owned by Stephen Cloobeck, developed the Polo Towers and Jockey Club time shares on the Strip and more recently, the Grand Chateau, now owned by Marriott.

The District, part of the master plan including Station Casinos' Green Valley Ranch property, was a suburban experiment in urban living.

The new community in Jean will require permits from Clark County as well as cooperation from county aviation officials who are proposing to build the nearby Ivanpah Airport to handle overflow from McCarran International Airport. The new project was conceived independent of those airport plans, developers say.