No slowdown seen in building boom

At its April 1950 opening, Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn was the showpiece of Las Vegas. The hotel’s three-story tower rose proudly as the highest building on what would come to be known as the Strip; Clark’s 350 employees formed the largest payroll in the state.

By 1993, the venerable resort — now 14 stories tall — was one of the smallest hotels on the Strip, with 821 rooms and a 17,000-square-foot casino.

Still, that property and its adjoining grounds were judged worth more than $ 160 million by the ITT Corp., parent company of ITT Sheraton Hotels, which purchased the package from Kirk Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp.

ITT reportedly plans to spend $ 1 billion over a 10-year period, renovating and expanding the Desert Inn Hotel/Casino to a 5,000-room resort. Initial construction over a three-year first phase is expected to result in more than 1, 000 additional rooms and 43,000 additional square feet of gambling space.

With three palatial new hotels opening within a three-month period, the closing months of 1993 will stand forever as the point marking the transformation of Las Vegas from an adult playground to an 86,000-room family resort, a transformation that began with the opening of Circus Circus in 1968.

First to open was the $ 375 million, pyramid-shaped Luxor, on Oct. 15, followed nine days later by the $ 430 million, pirate-themed Treasure Island. And on Dec. 18, the $ 1 billion 112-acre MGM Grand Hotel, Casino & Theme Park becomes the largest hotel and casino in the world.

The Luxor Hotel-Casino is a 30-story pyramid-shaped structure whose attractions include the world’s most powerful beam of light — 40 billion candlepower strong — shining from the top of the pyramid; a massive Sphinx entranceway and “River Nile” upon which guests are transported to room elevators; and various authentic Egyptian artifacts augmenting a full-scale reproduction of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. The Luxor has 2,526 rooms, a 100,000 -square-foot casino and an 1,100-seat arena, featuring nightly entertainment. Each hour after 4 p.m. the pirate ship Hispanola battles British frigate Britannia in “Buccaneer Bay,” outside the 2,900-room Treasure Island. Inside attractions include the usual run of shops, restaurants and a 90,000-square-foot casino, plus a 1,500-seat theater constructed to the specifications of the French-Canadian Cirque du Soleil performing troupe, a permanent Treasure Island attraction.

And those three are only the most recent new hotels on the Las Vegas Strip; others cater to high-rollers, the budget-minded and all stages in between.

Circus Circus, the city’s first family-oriented resort, opened in 1968 as a casino with daily circus performances. In 1972, Circus Circus added a 400-room hotel. The resort currently boasts 2,793 rooms; an attached RV park; a 100,000 -square-foot casino; a free circus arena and arcade; and the newly opened Grand Slam Canyon, a $ 90 million, 5-acre, climate-controlled indoor amusement park.

Next door to the Luxor, a white castle, complete with moat and drawbridge, houses the Excalibur, at 4,032 rooms the world’s second-largest hotel. The medieval theme is continued inside, with shows including the Wonderful World of Horses during the afternoon, and King Arthur’s Tournament playing evenings in the 917-seat King Arthur’s Arena.

The Rio, which opened in 1990, is in the midst of a $ 25 million casino and public area expansion that will bring the room capacity to 861 suites; a 33% expansion of the casino area to approximately 79,000 square feet; recreational area development including a second swimming pool and volleyball court; and a 434-space parking garage. Also included in the expansion is the Copacabana Supper Club Theater, a 430-seat entertainment and restaurant complex featuring Brazilian-themed production shows.

The decor of the Mirage, which opened in November 1989, simulates Polynesia, with waterfalls, grottoes and an erupting “volcano.” The 3,049-room hotel’s lobby features a 20,000-gallon salt-water aquarium.

Other natural habitats within the hotel include a large pool for dolphins and an area for the white tigers used in Siegfried and Roy’s magic show. The Mirage’s casino covers 100,000 square feet.

The Debbie Reynolds Hotel, Casino & Movie Museum opened this summer on the site of the former Horn and Hardart Paddlewheel.

The refurbished 200-room hotel features a 6,000-square-foot casino and a 500 -seat Star Theatre showroom, with what’s touted as America’s first authentic movie museum — housing Reynolds’ personal collection of Hollywood memorabilia — next door.

What’s coming up? Of course there’s the Desert Inn renovation, already mentioned. But Caesars Palace is also making big plans.

The first of Las Vegas’ modern wave of hotels, Caesars Palace — which opened in 1966 — plans to add as much as 50,000 square feet of restaurant and gaming space in a new casino.

The Forum Shops at Caesars, reportedly the busiest shopping mall in the country, will be expanded by a planned 100,000 square feet, with Planet Hollywood and F.A.O. Schwartz among the businesses already committed to Melvin Simon & Associates and the Gordon Company, which operate the mall under lease from Caesars World, owner of Caesars Palace.

Caesars Palace is also redesigning and rebuilding its facade, and adding two luxury suites — each approximately 10,000 square feet — for the exclusive use of invited high rollers.

And they’re developing a $ 26 million entertainment arena, Caesars Magic Empire, in which dining and magic (with the Magic Castle’s Milt Larsen a consultant) will be combined.

Don’t look for any slowdown to the construction of new vacation resorts in the booming desert city of Las Vegas. If anything, plans are getting grander and grander. “Where else can you invest $ 1 billion and get it back in two or three years?” asks an officer at a major strip hotel. “People throw money at you!”

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