Drew Las Vegas aims for 2022 opening after decadelong stall

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Three hotel brands -- the JW Marriott, the upscale brand Edition and the Reserve by Drew -- will be stacked in one massive tower with the whole thing branded as the Drew.
Three hotel brands -- the JW Marriott, the upscale brand Edition and the Reserve by Drew -- will be stacked in one massive tower with the whole thing branded as the Drew. Photo Credit: Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

What was to be the tallest hotel on the Las Vegas Strip has sat dormant for a decade, but its developers say a new phase of construction will begin next year and that the Drew Las Vegas will open in 2022.

Project officials led a selection of travel and convention industry media on a hard hat tour of the 67-floor, 3,719-room, blue-glassed shell on the north end of the Strip earlier this month.

Construction on the resort, then known as the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, began in 2007. Bankruptcy and the recession halted activities in 2009. Carl Icahn bought the property the following year for $148 million and sold it to developer Steve Witkoff and New Valley LLC in 2017 for $600 million.

Now in partnership with JW Marriott, the Drew is taking event reservations for September 2022. Two Blackbirds Hospitality, led by former Cosmopolitan CEO John Unwin, is overseeing the launch and operations. The group is meeting with investors and proceeding with design work. Permits are filed, and construction is set to resume in earnest next year, Unwin reported.

Three hotel brands -- the JW Marriott, the upscale brand Edition and the Reserve by Drew -- will be stacked in the one massive tower with the whole thing branded as the Drew Las Vegas.

Unwin made it clear during the presentation that the intention was to create a hospitality experience unlike any other on the Strip.

"We are not plopping down an Eiffel Tower or a Roman Empire," he said, adding that the project is "blessed with this incredible infrastructure and no legacy systems or people."

With a fresh template, the team is setting out to "create trips to Las Vegas that wouldn't have otherwise happened."

A number of catch phrases appeared in a video that serves as sort of a mood board for the project. Among them: "Throw Away the Script," "Sophisticated Mischief," "Born in Las Vegas. At Home in the World."

Sustainability and healthy living will be emphasized, Unwin said, without getting into specifics. "People care about the health of themselves and the health of their planet. There's a big opportunity to offer both a more thoughtful way in terms how we treat sustainability. But also people want to know the provenance of what they put into their body," he said.

"People want an interesting fitness experience, and people don't want to trade down when they travel. Whatever you experience at home -- your diet, technology in your home or office -- you don't want a lesser experience when you travel," Unwin said.

Business travelers will be a prime focus, which is not surprising given that the Drew will be adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center, itself in the midst of an expansion; a bridge will connect the two facilities.

Among the highlights is what the developers are calling North America's largest pillar-free ballroom. The 106,000-square-foot space can be divided as many as 14 ways. It will be located one level above two additional ballrooms, those measuring 41,000 and 31,000 square feet. The structure also features additional meeting and coworking spaces with natural light.

What Unwin calls "a nesting bar -- a bar within a bar within a bar" will overlook the hotel registration area, which he promises will have the latest technology to get guests to their rooms efficiently.

The Drew is planning a theater with a capacity of 4,000 for concerts, product launches and special events; a 165,000-square-foot casino; a 65,000-square-foot spa; and a penthouse floor with a gaming area, restaurant, bars and lounges.

The market is ripe for construction to resume on the Drew, said Unwin, who came to the city 15 years ago to help oversee an expansion of Caesars Palace. He then launched the Cosmopolitan, the last major resort to open on the Strip, in 2010.

"The only reason nothing of significance has opened [since the Cosmopolitan] is because they're such big projects and you have a limited number of potential owners who want to be in this business and want to go through what it takes to get a license," Unwin said.

"The big owners -- MGM, Caesars, Wynn, Las Vegas Sands -- don't need any product [at this time].

"That being said, there's 150,000 hotel rooms in this market, the market runs over 90% occupancy.  Visitation is growing, so we're going to run out of hotel space in 2023 or 2024 if we don't we add hotels."

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