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The New Frontier's 16-story Atrium Tower was reduced to a four-story-high pile of concrete, steel and glass in 18 seconds early Tuesday morning with the implosion of one of the most troubled hotel-casinos to ever have a Strip address.

From Las Vegan Meg Bertini's eagle-eye vantage point, it was quite a show.

"We had a great view from the balcony," Bertini said after watching her first implosion from her 35th-floor condominium at Sky Las Vegas nearly a mile north. "It was amazing. You could hear what sounded like the floors coming down before the outside imploded in."

She added that the five-minute implosion-preceding fireworks display, produced by Fireworks by Grucci, was "true Vegas form."

When the fireworks ended, a series of detonations moved through the building, followed six seconds later by a louder series of explosions that brought the building down in a large cloud of dust.

The implosion marked the end of the second hotel-casino to be built on the Strip. It opened as the Last Frontier in 1942 with 105 rooms. The Atrium Tower was added in 1990.

In its 65-year history, the resort, which was partially built with mob-backed funds, was the scene of several notable local events: It was the site of Elvis Presley's unsuccessful Las Vegas debut in 1956; it was once owned by Howard Hughes; and it was the site of a 2,325 day strike by Culinary union workers.

The New Frontier's 34.5-acre site will be the home of a new $5 billion mixed-use project being developed by Elad IDB Las Vegas, a joint venture between New York-based Elad Group and Property & Building Corp., a subsidiary of Israeli-based IDB Holdings Corp. The project will include a megaresort modeled after New York City's Plaza hotel.

Las Vegas native Ed Stiglitz, who said he's photographed every Las Vegas implosion since the Dunes was brought down in 1993, said he is not upset about seeing older properties go because something better always takes their place.

"Everybody says it's sad to see the old stuff go," he said from his vantage point under the Desert Inn Road overpass on Industrial Road. "Look at the Wynn, the Bellagio, The Mirage; they're gorgeous. Destroying the old does have a point."

However, he is unhappy that all of the new upscale projects being built are pushing middle-class customers off the Strip and down to Fremont Street.

"I've eaten once at the Wynn and I haven't been back," said Stiglitz, former president of the Nevada Camera Club. "I can't afford to go back."

Stephanie Gatas, who moved to Las Vegas a year-and-a-half ago, was out Tuesday morning to watch her second local implosion. She witnessed the Stardust's collapse in March, watching it all from the New Frontier.

"It's the anticipation of the building coming down," she said. "It's also knowing it was once there but now it's totally gone. And now there's new life."

Tuesday morning's implosion was broadcast in Israel for investors of Property & Building and IDB Holdings Corp., both of which are publicly traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Israeli billionaire and Elad Group owner Yitzhak Tshuva and IDB Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Nochi Dankner ceremoniously plunged the detonator.

The event was also filmed by National Geographic, which is working on a documentary about Controlled Demolition, the Phoenix, Md.-based company which has brought down every local hotel tower since the Dunes.

The New Frontier was brought down using 1,040 pounds of explosives placed in 6,200 locations throughout the building, Controlled Demolition President Mark Loizeaux said.

The site will be cleared over the next few months by Lakeside, Calif.-based Clauss Construction.

Elad IDB Las Vegas is planning a mixed-use development with a 3,500-room hotel with 300 private residences. The Plaza will be complemented with convention space, retail and restaurants.

The project, which has not yet received county approval, calls for a groundbreaking in late 2008 with an opening by 2012.

Elad IDB took over the property in August from Wichita, Kan.-based businessman Phil Ruffin for $1.24 billion. Ruffin bought the Frontier for $167 million for the property in October 1997. He renamed the property the New Frontier and ended what had been a bitter six-year labor strike between the Frontier's former owners and the Culinary union.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3893.

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