The duel between giant Strip Ferris wheels took another turn as the developers of the SkyVue wheel started pouring the foundations at 2 a.m. Thursday.
Concrete used to fill the 14-foot-deep hole will form the base for the twin poles that will hold up the 500-foot-tall ride, also called an observation wheel. Alone, they resemble an upside-down bicycle fork. Other concrete pads to anchor support cables, slightly removed from the pole base, will follow.
SkyVue principal Howard Bulloch said the work, which started last month on 11 acres across Las Vegas Boulevard from Mandalay Bay, has so far been funded internally, rather than waiting to line up outside financing. The entire project, including a two-story retail complex, comes with a $210 million price.
Other local developers have run into trouble with this approach during the real estate downturn, but Bulloch said most of the work of landing a construction loan has already been done.
"We are processing the financing right now," he said. "We have started (construction) now because I am so confident that we will get the financing."
Since May, when Bulloch displayed a 23,000-pound bearing purchased for the wheel, SkyVue's budget has grown from $175 million to $210 million. Bulloch attributed this to several changes, such as upgrading the light-emitting-diode-powered sign on the wheel's hub, slightly enlarging the retail building and installing two-story glass walls in the building where the wheel will pass.
Bulloch said sit-down restaurants and "Middle America" merchandise retailers have signed nonbinding letters of intent for more than half of the 125,000 square feet of leasable space, he said. The 10,000-square-foot food court has filled with seven tenants that agreed to leases.
The project could pay for itself through any of three basic revenue sources -- tickets to ride on the wheel, advertising on the LED screens or retail space rents, he said.
By creating a media event out of pouring concrete, Bulloch tried to draw a distinction between progress on SkyVue and on Caesars Entertainment Corp.'s similar big wheel, now going up about two miles north on the Strip.
"Take a picture of where ours is and take a picture of where theirs is," Bulloch said. "Not just a rendering, but a real picture."
Project manager David Codiga said excavation for Caesars' 550-foot Las Vegas High Roller started on schedule in the back of the property, not visible from the Strip, and parts are now being fabricated in several countries. The total budget for Caesars $550 million Project Linq includes the High Roller, an attached outdoor entertainment and retail center, refurbishing the Flamingo, O'Sheas and the Imperial Palace. The small O'Sheas casino will be razed.
Analysts who have tracked the race to build Las Vegas's first big wheel have expressed doubt that the Strip can support two, and that the first to start hauling people will be the one to make it. Caesars has promoted its version as a bigger draw due to its central Strip location, while Bulloch contends SkyVue will have better views and approach the edge of the Strip at midarc.
Both projects have set summer 2013 opening dates, with SkyVue aiming for July 4.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.