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South Strip projects delayed but still happening

Updated July 14, 2020 - 12:38 pm

On the sleepy south edge of the Strip, construction crews are working on the home of the Pinball Hall of Fame — a project months behind schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the vacant plot next door, developers still plan to build a 21-story hotel-casino, but they expect to break ground later than planned because of the outbreak.

Up the street a bit, MGM Resorts International wants to turn the Route 91 Harvest site into a parking lot for Raiders games. But development plans beyond that have been shelved because of the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus outbreak upended daily life, developers drew up plans for a handful of projects on the south Strip, a stretch of the famed casino corridor with megaresorts on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard but empty lots, some boarded-up buildings and an abandoned Ferris wheel project on the east side.

Despite the turmoil of recent months, investors haven’t given up on the long-struggling section. Projects are moving ahead, albeit not as quickly as developers hoped, and a magician who performs with tigers wants a new venue there.

Las Vegas has a long history of developers pitching big plans and never following through, including on the south Strip, and it’s anyone’s guess, especially amid the current chaos, whether all of the proposals there will materialize.

But if they get built, the ventures would bring life to a quiet, blighted section of the boulevard that was light on tourists long before the pandemic effectively closed the Strip for more than two months.

“It’s not like you’re in the center of the Strip where you have a lot of people walking around,” said Las Vegas investment banker Viney Singal, founder of Valtus Capital Group.

‘Eerie feeling’

Before the pandemic devastated Las Vegas’ economy with casino closures and soaring job losses, the south Strip had gained its most momentum in years with some property sales and new project proposals.

Developer David Daneshforooz announced plans for Dream Las Vegas in February, buying the project site weeks before the outbreak turned life upside down in Southern Nevada.

He said last month his group wanted to break ground on the roughly $300 million hotel-casino in November but now hopes to start in March 2021.

The project’s financing was delayed by the pandemic, as the construction lender “hit pause” amid the turmoil but didn’t back out of the deal, he said.

Daneshforooz said he wasn’t worried that the 450-room project would be derailed by the outbreak. He said pandemics “come to an end” and noted the upscale resort isn’t scheduled to open until 2023.

Still, he agreed that seeing Las Vegas shut down — with barricaded resort entrances on the Strip and quiet sidewalks normally jammed with tourists — was like something out of a movie.

“It was definitely a little bit of an eerie feeling,” he said.

A flashy hotel has also been expected to replace a low-slung motel on the south Strip. Israeli hotelier Asher Gabay, who bought the 1960s-era Motel 8 property across from Mandalay Bay in 2018, unveiled plans last year for a 34-story, 620-room hotel-casino called Astral.

At the time, he said he expected to break ground in the spring of 2020 and finish in 2022. He estimated the project would cost between $325 million and $350 million.

Gabay did not respond to a request for comment seeking an update on the project.

‘Traffic is thin’

Next to the Dream site, work crews broke ground in May on the new Pinball Hall of Fame location. The project is about six months behind schedule because of delays in pulling construction permits, said Tim Arnold, president of the nonprofit Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club, the arcade’s operator.

Arnold, whose organization bought the project site in 2018, hopes to open the facility by early January. It would be larger than the arcade’s current location near UNLV and still offer free parking, free admission and 25-cent games.

Still, after the pandemic hit, he feared “every day” the outbreak would torpedo the project. The current facility closed for around 100 days because of the public health crisis, and half of its games are turned off to keep players apart.

All told, business is down 30 percent to 50 percent from pre-pandemic levels, Arnold indicated.

“Traffic is thin,” he said.

Meanwhile, magician Jay Owenhouse wants a different kind of attraction on the south Strip: a 312-seat tent where he would perform with tigers.

The venue would have armed guards on site 24 hours a day and a tiger sanctuary with cages surrounded by a 10-foot-high wooden security fence, Clark County planning documents show.

Owenhouse could not be reached for comment.

Also on the south Strip, MGM Resorts last year announced it would turn its festival grounds there — the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history — into a parking area for events at Allegiant Stadium.

That was the near-term plan, the casino operator said at the time, adding it ultimately wanted to build a community and athletic center and have a memorial for victims of the Oct. 1, 2017, attack at the Route 91 concert.

MGM spokeswoman Debra DeShong said this month that surface parking may be used there if Raiders games are at full capacity. But future development “is on hold” because of the pandemic.

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

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