Wynn Resorts picks golf over founder's vision of Paradise

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The Wynn Las Vegas Golf Club, which closed in December, can be seen behind the Encore Resort tower in 2016. Photo Credit: Praytino/Flickr

Giddy. That's how the Las Vegas Review-Journal described former Wynn Resorts chairman and CEO Steve Wynn when, on the company's third-quarter earnings call last year, he laid out his vision for a $1.5 billion Disney-like attraction.

Designed around a man-made lagoon three times the size of Lake Bellagio, it was to include a white sand beach, a mile-long boardwalk, ziplines, bumper cars and a nightly carnival-inspired show complete with fireworks and floats.

"There will be 10 to 12 floats in an audiovisual parade every night right after dark," Wynn said. "That parade is a musical and visual extravaganza, but it's not the Rose Bowl parade. It's a much edgier kind of thing with huge spiders with spider webs, and King Kong and the devil, and these things are 25 to 30 feet tall and they're animated."

The project, replacing the 12-year-old Wynn Las Vegas Golf Club behind the Wynn and Encore hotel towers, was to include a stand-alone casino hotel with 1,500 rooms and a new convention center in close proximity to other major meetings facilities. Wynn dubbed the development Paradise Park. 

A lot has changed at the company in a year, most notably the departure of Wynn, and it appears Paradise has been lost. 

"We weren't really interested in building a large public swimming pool for the Las Vegas Strip," Wynn CEO Matt Maddox said last week on the Q3 earnings call. 

Instead, the company is pivoting back to a more familiar bet: a golf course plus the added conventions and meetings space. 

"I wasn't surprised. I really wasn't," said professor Todd Uglow of the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

Uglow said multiple factors drove the decision to dump the Paradise Park plan. "This was definitely a pet project of Steve Wynn's," he said. "This represents a way for them to distance themselves from him."

Reviving the golf course is also a far less expensive proposition than constructing a resort and lagoon from scratch. That conservative approach might be particularly attractive given that the company's Q3 earnings failed to meet estimates and that the stock is down 100 points from its 52-week high. Macau, where Wynn has two luxury resorts, has been inconsistent for gaming operators.

In that environment, the golf course represents an investment that's lower risk but also lower potential reward. 

"It's a great amenity for the resort," Maddox said. "Not only did we notice we lost 16,000 rounds of golf out there, 70% of which were cash, but we lost probably $10 million to $15 million worth of domestic casino business -- people coming in for golf trips who have decided to go elsewhere."

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which polled travelers on their golfing habits in 2011, 2013 and 2015, 2% of visitors to Las Vegas play golf while in town. That adds up to a market of roughly 800,000 potential players for a Strip-side golf course. 

The original Wynn Las Vegas Golf Club, which closed last December, was designed by Tom Fazio. A round cost $350 to $500. It was known for its service as well as for its design. 

"You were escorted to a locker room. They shined your shoes for you. You were greeted by your caddie. You had free refreshments and light snacks for the day, and you were over-the-top pampered," Brady Kannon, who runs LVteetimes.com, told the Las Vegas Sun. 

In 2006, the course was ranked No. 49 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play list, and when Wynn Resorts announced its demise last year, the publication mourned the loss of its "transformative, park-like landscape on the Strip and stellar design, with its outstanding par 3s, strategic bunkering and memorable closing holes."

Fazio will be designing the new 18-hole course, which is expected to open by early 2020 to align with the debut of a 400,000-square-foot convention center, originally Phase 1 of the Paradise Park project. 

But just because the company has parked its plans for Paradise doesn't mean it's scrapping the idea of additional Las Vegas rooms. Earlier this year, Wynn bought a 38-acre parcel on the west side of the Strip, which Maddox called "a far superior site" for a new, integrated casino resort. 

"It's going to take two years of design and development for that project," Maddox said. The planning starts in 2019.

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