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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Turnberry, Schaeffer Plan New Resort on the Strip

12 May 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Condominium developer Turnberry Associates has formed a private company with former Mandalay Resort Group President and Chief Financial Officer Glenn Schaeffer to develop a major casino resort on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas-based Fontainebleau Resorts, named after the famed Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, expects to open a resort with up to 4,000 rooms on the 25-acre site of the former El Rancho casino on Paradise Road. The resort is expected to break ground by the end of March 2006 and open by 2008.

Turnberry bought the El Rancho site in 2000 and imploded the property that year with plans to build a London-themed casino hotel, complete with replicas of the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. But themed resorts have since fallen out of favor and the site sat vacant as companies struggled to obtain financing after Sept. 11.

Las Vegas tourism has since rebounded, interest rates are low and prospects are rosy for the north end of the Strip, home to some of the Strip's oldest hotels. Last month's debut of the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas, the Venetian's construction of a megaresort next door are among several high-rise projects taking shape in the neighborhood.

Schaeffer, who was named chief executive of Fountainebleu Resorts, has brought with him to Fontainebleau a handful of former Mandalay Resort Group officials who recently left the company after it was acquired by Strip casino giant MGM Mirage. They include the former vice president of hotel operations, controller and information technology chief for the Mandalay Bay resort.

Turnberry acquired the Fontainebleu Hotel in Florida on Wednesday and anticipates redeveloping the 50-year-old property "into a high-end contemporary resort featuring distinctive restaurants, swank clubs, live entertainment venues, a world-class spa and dramatic poolscaping," Turnberry Associates Chief Executive Jeffrey Soffer said in a statement. Soffer is chairman of Fontainebleau Resorts.

Fontainebleau expects to develop what is anticipated to be the first of several Fontainebleau-brand resorts planned worldwide. Some will have casinos, where appropriate.

"This is going to be a lifestyle resort brand," Fontainebleau Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer John Marz said. Marz was Mandalay Resort Group's marketing chief. He said a price tag for the new resort has not been determined.

"Fontainebleau Resorts will be identified by its crisp aesthetics and an overall 'cool factor' that will resonate with traveling consumers who aspire to more quality in their lives," Schaeffer said in a statement.

The company is considering building condominiums as part of the Las Vegas resort but is still working on final design plans, Marz said. The resort will feature a sizable casino as well as convention space to complement its proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center, he said.

"It will be a business hotel during the week and a tourist hotel on the weekends," Marz said.

Financing for the resort is under way, he said, declining to reveal specifics.

"We have money to start the project," Marz said.

Turnberry Associates is the developer behind Turnberry Place, one of Las Vegas' first luxury condominium complexes and an inspiration for dozens of high-rise residences cropping up all over town. Turnberry Place, on Paradise Road near the Las Vegas Hilton, is next door to the El Rancho site.

Schaeffer is credited with helping to transform Mandalay from a slot machine-driven gaming company to a resort empire driven by high hotel rates and convention customers. The company outpaced competitors over the past year with double-digit room rate increases on the Strip generated in large part by the addition of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.