Buddhist temple site near Las Vegas Strip once listed for 5 times sales price

When a Buddhist group recently bought property near the Strip and unveiled plans to build a temple, more than a few people likely did a double-take.

With its boozed-up tourists, endless gambling and other debauchery, the Strip doesn’t exactly come across as a natural spot for a house of worship.

Project plans aside, it’s also interesting to look at the property’s sale price — because if all had gone according to plan before the economy crashed, it would have sold for more than five times what the Buddhist group spent.

Last month, the World Buddhism Association Headquarters, a Southern California-based organization, paid $17.5 million for a mostly empty 12.2-acre lot next to the SLS Las Vegas. But it was on the market for $100 million around 2007, said Michael Parks of CBRE Group, a former listing broker for the site just east of the Strip.

It carried that price tag around the same time that Parks, a member of CBRE’s global gaming group, and John Knott, head of that group, brokered the sale of the Sahara — as the SLS used to be known — for $345 million, as well as a 26-acre parcel across from the hotel for $444 million.

All three properties were owned by the Bennett family, whose patriarch, the late Bill Bennett, bought or developed several casinos on the Strip.

Parks said Friday that the Buddhist group’s property garnered a “decent amount” of interest when he tried selling it, but once the market crashed, would-be buyers vanished. He also said his group kept lowering the price as the economy worsened, and that he listed it off and on for several years. Different brokers had the listing when it eventually sold.

Paragon Gaming co-founder Diana Bennett, Bill Bennett’s daughter, said Friday that she figured whoever bought the Sahara would have bought the lot next door as well. The SLS talked about buying it, she said, but instead leased it for a while for employee parking.

There was also talk about selling the property in pieces, a plan she vetoed.

In 2007, her family sold the Sahara to nightclub operator Sam Nazarian and investment firm Stockbridge Capital Group. That same year, the Bennetts sold the parcel at the southwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue to MGM Mirage, as casino operator MGM Resorts International was formerly known.

Nazarian’s group closed the Sahara in 2011 amid the deepening recession and eventually turned it into the SLS, reopening the renovated property in 2014. But the casino proved a money loser. Stockbridge bought out Nazarian’s stake and then reached a deal last year to sell the hotel to Meruelo Group founder Alex Meruelo.

MGM Mirage, meanwhile, had said its land was part of a larger assemblage for “future development.” But the economy soon collapsed, and the company never built a resort there.

MGM paid around $17 million an acre. Bennett figures land values on the Strip won’t return to that level “for a long time,” adding her family sold the property at “literally the tail end” of the boom years.

Shortly after, she said, “it all crashed.”

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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