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Echelon could use some tarp assistance

It’s doubtful REI or any outdoor supplier could make a tarp big enough to cover nine stories of steel.

Otherwise Boyd Gaming Corp. might be in the market for such a product.

The company announced last week it was shelving its $4.8 billion Echelon for three to five years. Work on the Strip development, at the site of the former Stardust, shut down in August 2008 when the economy tanked and Boyd decided not to risk its future in the middle of a recession.

One glance across the street at the bankrupt and shuttered Fontainebleau tells Wall Street that Boyd made the right decision.

But the company is now holding 87 acres that house an unusable parking garage, an unfinished power plant and a bare steel-and-concrete structure that was to be three of the project’s five hotel towers with 5,000 rooms.

In other words, Echelon is now assured of an annual nomination in the Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas, Best of the Worst” section for either “ugliest building” or “hotel most deserving of being imploded.”

Boyd Gaming Chief Executive Officer Keith Smith said the project can be integrated into whatever the company decides to build. In the meantime, Boyd will spend about $15 million this year to secure and maintain Echelon.

Smith said Boyd “will work with the county to take the appropriate measures” concerning the location.

Under county ordinances, there isn’t much the local governing body can do with a privately-owned eyesore.

“Our primary concern is public safety, which is why we require projects in such a situation to develop and obtain approval for a decommissioning plan,” county spokesman Dan Kullin said. “This plan ensures the project site is secure and that public safety is maintained. Frequently these plans have ongoing costs, which must be funded by the property owner.”

That explanation still doesn’t sit well with the neighbors, namely Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Steve Wynn.

When told that Boyd wasn’t going to do anything with Echelon until the next presidential election, Wynn became somewhat incredulous. He wants to see Echelon’s unfinished steel structure disappear as much as he wants to see the Obama administration vacate the White House.

For now, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore’s combined $5 billion of investment are across from an empty land parcel (The New Frontier/Plaza site) and Echelon.

Smith does not believe Echelon was a mistake. When the economy turns favorable and the market is ready for additional resorts, Boyd will revive Echelon in some form.

“We’re a strong company and we can wait this out,” Smith said. “That site will be ripe for development.”

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.

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