This report was corrected on Sept. 24, 2012.
The softness -- some would call it a collapse -- in condo sales on the Las Vegas Strip has had a silver lining: the availability of large, residential suites in nongaming properties now sold as hotel inventory in a rebounding market.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the local hotel market continues to recover in 2012 after achieving year-over-year gains in visitor volume (4.4%) and citywide occupancy (3.4%).
But the Strip condo-planning and -building frenzy that came to a head just as the financial meltdown occurred in 2008-2009 was a disastrous example of the intersection of overstated demand and terrible timing.
Several projects that had taken advance deposits never broke ground; others languished in midconstruction purgatory. A fortunate (or maybe not) few were able to secure sufficient funding to get completed.
In the latter category, Elara, a Hilton Grand Vacations Hotel -- Center Strip (formerly PH Towers Westgate), and Trump International Hotel share similar trajectories. Both were independently launched (i.e., unaffiliated with major Strip titans MGM Resorts International or Caesars Entertainment) and completed just in time for the economic downturn.
Elara was originally conceived and built by Westgate Resorts, one of the nation's largest timeshare resort firms. With a coveted mid-Strip location and direct entry from the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, the sleek, nonlinear tower sparkled with all the right features upon opening in 2009.
As a nonsmoking, nongaming facility featuring a drop-dead-gorgeous lobby and residential suites with kitchens, high-definition projection systems and hip Planet Hollywood furnishings, PH Towers Westgate was primed with plenty of Vegas allure to attract timeshare buyers. Westgate also claimed that it was the world's largest vacation ownership building to date. All of that, however, still wasn't enough to sell timeshares when it went to market in 2009. When it quickly became evident that sales alone weren't going to fill units, Westgate engaged Caesars Entertainment (then Harrah's Entertainment, which had recently acquired the adjacent Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino) to market the property's unsold inventory as hotel space.
That agreement ended with the recent sale of the property, which was quickly followed by the Elara rebrand this past March. The 52-story tower, with about 80% of its 1,201 suites now bookable as hotel inventory, is the third Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare resort on the Strip. A resort pool with private cabanas and a complimentary fitness center round out the property's appeal.
In virtually any other destination, the arrival of a signature, gilded-facade Trump high-rise would make a big splash. In the depressed Las Vegas environment of 2008, however, the Trump International Hotel was another luxe tower joining an already crowded field of newbuilds dominated by MGM Resorts' City Center project.
However, in what is now arguably one of the best value propositions on the Strip, the luxuriously appointed residential suites at Trump International Hotel sell at a nightly price point that compares favorably with the competition.
With just 1,282 suites, the nongaming, nonsmoking, boutique-size (for Las Vegas, that is) property offers quick in-and-out access just across from the Fashion Show Mall. Guests rarely share an elevator, and the valet-only parking setup is convenient. Suites facing south feature impressive Strip views through floor-to-ceiling windows, while those facing north -- in sight of the stalled Echelon and Fontainebleau projects and the shuttered Sahara -- bear witness to Nevada's recent economic implosion. All suites feature kitchens/kitchenettes with Sub-Zero, Wolf and Bosch appliances; large, marble baths with twin sinks; jetted spa tubs and in-mirror plasma TVs; and a comfortable living area with sofa bed.
The Trump Kids program is designed to draw family business, while free shuttles provide continuous service to Wynn/Encore and Caesars Forum Shops. The property has a quiet, condo-like atmosphere, which, along with the gourmet DJT restaurant, is a welcome surprise just steps from the bustling Strip.
Both Elara and Trump carefully cultivate a low-key and quieter guest demographic, partially by eschewing two-bedded rooms, thus achieving a more residential feel with a king-bed-only configuration. On-Strip but still off most agents' radar, these properties, with their generously sized, family-friendly suites and midweek rates starting as low as $129, are two of the best-kept secrets in Las Vegas. Both pay 10% commission to travel agents. Contact Elara at (877) 651-4482 or www.elara.hilton.com; call Trump at (855)878-6700 or visit www.trumplasvegashotel.com.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas was a "pure hotel." The property is still selling condominiums; more information on the Trump Las Vegas condos can be found here.