Las Vegas hotel projects breathing life into the northern Strip

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Photo Credit: Bryan Busovicki/Shutterstock

Marriott International's plan to open two luxury hotels at Las Vegas' long-stalled Fontainebleau site could finally provide crucial energy for a stretch of the Strip's north end that has been largely dormant for the better part of a decade.

Quiet since 2009 because of recession-era construction delays, the project is slated to open in 2020 as the Drew Las Vegas, a 4,000-room integrated resort that will include a JW Marriott and a hotel under Marriott's Edition brand, as well as a third eponymous hotel, the Drew, which will be overseen in part by ex-Cosmopolitan Las Vegas CEO John Unwin.

In addition to a casino, restaurants and nightclubs, the Drew will offer more than 500,000 square feet of convention and meeting space.

Between the Drew, the 3,000-room Resorts World project at the old Stardust site and Wynn Resorts' 1,500-room hotel slated for its Paradise Park project, the northern stretch of the Strip could see as many as 8,500 rooms added within the next three years.

The developments signal some much-needed momentum along a stretch where the only recent significant activity was the 2014 opening of the 1,613-room SLS Las Vegas at the old site of the Sahara.

Having broken ground at the Drew site in 2007, the 3,889-room Fontainebleau Las Vegas, which was to be a sister property of the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach, was about 70% completed when it fell into bankruptcy. Construction was halted in April 2009.

Financier Carl Icahn acquired the site in 2010 for $148 million and sold it last summer to Witkoff Group and New Valley for $600 million.

Meanwhile, the Resorts World site was acquired by Boyd Gaming in 2004 and broke ground in 2007.

Initially, a 2010 opening date was scheduled, but there, too, financing issues halted the project in 2008. Genting acquired the site in 2013 and resumed construction two years later.

"Once you go past the Wynn and Fashion Show Mall, you're in a construction zone," said Mehmet Erdem, an associate professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas' William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. "If you're a visitor from out of town, you'll either turn around or take a taxi downtown. I think that four years out, that place is going to be happening."

The Drew development is also notable because of Marriott's currently limited brand exposure along the Strip compared with hotel-casino specialists like Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International. None of Marriott's legacy brands are represented along the Strip.

In fact, Marriott's only Strip properties are the 3,028-room Cosmopolitan, which is part of its Autograph Collection soft brand, and the 289-room W Las Vegas, which was reflagged in 2016 from what had been one of the SLS Las Vegas' towers. The W brand was owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts when that company was acquired by Marriott in 2016.

Roxanne Boryczki, president of AZ Trails Travel in Fountain Hills, Ariz., said, "The whole Marriott casino concept doesn't fit into my traditional view of Marriott. But the Cosmopolitan is a great hotel, so if [Unwin] is going to take what he knows to help launch the property, that will definitely be an advantage."

What remains to be seen is whether or not demand will meet the additional room supply in Las Vegas, which, at 149,000 rooms, represents the country's largest hotel market. Last year, Las Vegas was nearly matching 2016's record visitor numbers until Oct. 1, when a heavily armed gunman fired on a country music concert from the Strip's Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 people and injuring 851.

By the end of the year, 2017 visitor numbers had fallen 1.7% from the previous year, to 42.2 million, according to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority.

Erdem said that the northern Strip projects account for "a lot of rooms" and warned of potential speed bumps, such as a spike in oil prices, that could further curtail Las Vegas's visitor numbers.

But he also said that current expansion and renovation plans for the Las Vegas Convention Center might further drive demand.

And he noted that even as numbers of visitors slowed, last year's occupancy among Strip hotels was 90%.

"Other cities would give an arm and a leg for that," he said.

CORRECTION: The Cosmopolitan has 3,028 rooms; an incorrect number of rooms appeared in an earlier version of this article.

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