The Drew Las Vegas hotel & casino in Downtown, Nevada Gaming Resort Architecture Design

Fontainebleau Las Vegas Rescued At Last

May 6, 2020

Fontainebleau Las Vegas Rescued At Last

There’s a unique-looking building on South Las Vegas Boulevard that’s been lingering in a state of semi completion for more than a decade. It’s caused parking issues for most of that time, and it hasn’t always been loved by the people who live and work around it – but it appears that it may now finally have a future – and from an architectural point of view it’s going to be great to see a potentially iconic-looking building finally realized.

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The building was once known as Fontainebleau Las Vegas and should have opened in 2008 as a hot new attraction on the Las Vegas strip. There are many stunning buildings competing to catch the eye in Vegas, but Fontainebleau had a singular attribute that made it stand out head and shoulders above all the rest – and we mean that quite literally. With 63 floors and standing an astonishing 735 feet tall, it’s not only the tallest building in Vegas but the tallest in all of Nevada. That ought to have made it a prime piece of real estate, but thanks to a combination of poor planning and financial misfortune, it’s been mothballed for over ten years and, more recently, was in danger of becoming an eyesore.

According to the original plan for the building, which was drawn up in 2007, the building and resort were to contain almost four thousand hotel rooms, condo units, and a casino with a floor covering one hundred thousand square feet. If realized, that would have put it on a par with the greatest casinos in Vegas, and would have seen a new major player enter the competition for tourist dollars in the middle of the city. Just one year later, the company in charge of the project reported that they were almost two and a half million dollars in debt. The Bank of America was approached for a loan, but after assessing the project, they had no confidence that it could be completed even with further financial assistance. Fontainebleau Las Vegas LLC declared bankruptcy in June 2009, and so began a long period of dereliction.

The difficulties didn’t end there. Financier Carl Icahn saw the potential of the semi-complete project and acquired it in February 2010, taking ownership of the framework and assets in February 2010. Any hope that he would oversee the completion of the original project was quickly dashed when he auctioned off all of the building’s furnishings in October of the same year. Everything then went quiet until November 2015, when Icahn put the whole hotel and resort back on the market for $650m – more than three times the sum he’d paid for it five years earlier. By this point the building, with its exposed construction areas, was considered so ugly that it was covered in cosmetic wrapping in July 2017 at the cost of two million dollars. Its prospects of avoiding demolition didn’t appear to be good.

The Crystals Las Vegas Nevada architecture
photo © Andrew McRae

If July 2017 was the low point of the building’s existence, August turned out to be the high point. The resort was sold again – this time to Witkoff Group and New Valley LLC for $600m, and these new owners had bigger plans than just stripping away what remained of the assets and selling them off one at a time. They immediately set about the task of waterproofing the skeleton of the building and readying it for future construction works, and came up with a new blueprint. Along with the blueprint came a new name. Gone was the Fontainebleau – this colossus of a casino and hotel complex would now be known as The Drew Las Vegas. Finances were secured, and five thousand construction jobs were created. It’s thought that when the new casino finally opens, it will employ a further six thousand people.

It’s worthy of note that the casino will no longer be the main selling point of the new business. You can still make big money from a casino in Las Vegas – and many people do – but the landscape of casino entertainment in 2020 looks very different from 2009 when the previous project stalled. Back then, online slots weren’t such a threat. There are certain advantages to owning a brick-and-mortar casino as opposed to a slots site, but they don’t always outweigh the convenience benefits that such websites bring to customers. A new casino opening in Vegas doesn’t just have to worry about the competition it faces up and down the length of the famous strip – it also has to worry about the competition it faces from online slots websites and virtual casinos. That means alternative forms of income have to be sourced – and from the plans, it sounds like The Drew will offer plenty.

The huge casino will still exist within the building, but so will two Marriott hotels, which will be the first time the enormous hotel chain has had a presence on the strip. The number of hotel rooms has been reduced slightly to just over 3700, and there will now be over half a million square feet of meeting and convention space within the building as well as the casino floor. The convention space may turn out to be part of a collaborative project – according to the plans that we’ve seen, a brand new bridge will be built that will connect The Drew directly to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Comic-Con and events like it are now multi-million dollar events for the venues that host them, and from the design and the connection to the Convention Center, it sounds like The Drew intends to get in on the action.

The Luxor Las Vegas Sphinx Nevada USA
photograph © Andrew McRae

The key question in all of this is about when the building will finally open, and unfortunately, we have a little while to wait yet. The building was showing the signs of its decade of neglect when the new owners acquired it, and although there are plenty of people working full time on the project, it’s still thought that it will be mid-2022 by the time that Witkoff and New Valley are finally ready to open the doors for the first time. By that point, it will be fourteen years beyond the point where it would have become open to the public according to the original vision. Given the size of the hotel and its obvious potential to become a famous and celebrated symbol of Las Vegas, we can only hope that it proves to be worth the wait.

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