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Fontainebleau to open by end of 2023, developer says

The former Fontainebleau is the Fontainebleau once again and is slated to open by the end of 2023, developers of the long-stalled north Strip resort announced Tuesday.

The 67-story resort will now be called Fontainebleau Las Vegas and will open in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to Florida developer Jeffrey Soffer’s firm Fontainebleau Development.

The project, which first broke ground in 2007 but has stood unfinished for more than a decade, currently sits at 75 percent complete, the firm said. It is expected to create approximately 3,200 construction jobs and another 6,000 permanent jobs at the resort once complete, Soffer said during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

The name change comes after the recent departure of development partner Marriott International, which confirmed in October that the hotel chain had reached “an amicable settlement” with the property’s owner. Marriott had been part of the project since early 2018, and the company’s website had called the resort the JW Marriott Las Vegas Blvd.

Tuesday’s announcement brings full circle the project that has been a decade-and-a-half in the making.

In an interview Tuesday, Soffer said he hadn’t even given the idea of returning to the project much thought until the opportunity presented itself during the pandemic. But the chance to come back to the project he started, Soffer said, “just made sense.”

“The opportunity was a great opportunity. This is a market that’s going to be here forever. It’s not going anywhere,” Soffer said. “People want to come to Vegas. They want to go to these hotels, they want to go to the conventions, they want to go gamble, they want to see the best shows in the world. It’s got all the pieces that you want when you own hotels.”

Soffer’s firm first unveiled plans for the resort in May 2005, with construction on the project breaking ground in 2007. But the economy tumbled soon after amid the real estate market collapse, and the unfinished resort went bankrupt in 2009.

Billionaire Carl Icahn bought the property in 2010 for roughly $150 million. Seven years later, Icahn sold it for $600 million to Steve Witkoff and New Valley, a real estate firm and subsidiary of cigarette maker The Vector Group.

Witkoff and Marriott unveiled the resort’s new name — Drew Las Vegas — in early 2018, with plans to open the resort in late 2020. But in 2020, amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 forced shutdowns, construction on the resort was suspended once again.

And in February, Soffer’s firm, in partnership with Kansas conglomerate Koch Industries, acquired the project more than a decade after Soffer sold it.

For Soffer and his development team, they’re picking up just about where they left off.

“When I drove on the property the first time, it was exactly the way I left it,” Soffer said.

Soffer said his vision for the luxury resort has changed somewhat since its original design to meet the changing customer demands. The resort won’t have the previously planned retail shopping mall, for example, which Soffer said will give them more space for other features. Those additions will be announced over the next 12 to 18 months, he added.

Jake Francis, president of Koch Real Estate Investments, said the company wouldn’t have felt comfortable partnering with someone who didn’t have the knowledge that Soffer and his firm have with the project.

“Jeff knows about this asset. He was the original developer. So a lot of our role honestly is kind of getting out of the way and letting him do what he’s best at,” Francis said.

Fontainebleau Development has retained Las Vegas builder Richardson Construction to finish construction on the resort project that spans 25 acres on the north end of the Strip next to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Richardson was the lead builder on the neighboring Resorts World Las Vegas, the $4.3 billion project that opened this summer and was the first new casino-resort constructed on the Strip in more than a decade.

With the addition of Resorts World, as well as the recently completed expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, quite a bit has changed around Fontainebleau since Soffer first unveiled the project some 16 years ago.

Having another megaresort within walking distance of the convention center presents big opportunities for convention and trade show customers, said Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns the convention center. And those customers are already excited about those prospects, Hill added.

“This building has seen a lot in the time it’s been up. It’s gone through a recession. It’s gone through a recovery. It’s gone through a pandemic,” Hill said. “I think it says something about Las Vegas as a city that a building that has existed this long in this shape has the ability to thrive, to pick up where it left off and to be everything that it was meant to be.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak saw firsthand many of the project’s setbacks in his 10 years as a Clark County commissioner.

“I remember when I was on the [county] commission, we talked about wrapping this building and getting it so it didn’t look as bad,” Sisolak said at Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

Sisolak said the jobs created by the project will be play a huge role in Southern Nevada’ continued recovery from the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that there will be “an awful lot of families that are going to support themselves through that hotel.”

Despite the decade worth of delays, Sisolak said he believes that Soffer and Koch Industries will finally get the Fontainebleau over the finish line.

“This group that they’ve assembled certainly have the financial wherewithal to do that,” Sisolak said. “I’m confident that they’re going to do that.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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