|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Review-Journal|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 29, 2005 - Appearances are not all they seem.
And gaming analysts, offered a behind-the-scenes preview this week of the $2.5 billion Wynn Las Vegas, said that despite a significant amount of construction remaining to be completed in the next 90 days, the 2,700-room resort will be ready when guests begin arriving April 28.
The track record of Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn, whose previous teams opened The Mirage (1989), Treasure Island (1993) and Bellagio (1998) on time, helped alleviate concerns about many areas of the property that are still far from finished.
According to analysts, construction crews, beginning this week, will operate on 20-hour workday schedules in order to complete many of the public areas, such as the main atrium, restaurants, walkways and retail offerings.
"Management assured us that the property would open on time," said Goldman Sachs analyst Steven Kent. "In fact, management said that this property is ahead of where Bellagio was at this point prior to its opening. Our past experience with casino openings suggests the final product only really gets pulled together a few weeks before opening, so for now we are truly not concerned about meeting the opening date."
Deutsche Bank analyst Marc Falcone agreed that Wynn Las Vegas would be ready for its initial customers.
"While we acknowledge there is still a lot of work to do before the facility is ready, we remain comfortable that it will open on time as required under the company's lending agreements," Falcone said, adding the company has $200 million built in for construction contingencies.
Samanta Stewart, who oversees investor relations for Wynn Resorts, said the project is on schedule for a hotel-casino of its magnitude three months outside of opening.
"We're comfortable everything is on time and on budget," she said.
The tour, conducted by Wynn Resorts Chief Operating Officer Marc Schorr, gave analysts an initial look at Wynn Las Vegas, the first new megaresort to open on the Strip since the Aladdin in 2000. The property is expected to include 111,000 square feet of casino space, 18 restaurants, 200,000 square feet of convention space, and retail attractions.
The 18-hole golf course, redesigned from its previous layout as the Desert Inn, has been completed. Kent said a round of golf will cost $500.
Analysts said the design of the resort, in which much of the property's special features will be hidden from the public behind a man-made mountain heavily decorated with trees, gives the property a boutique atmosphere.
For example, the primary restaurants are along the edge of a man-made lake facing the mountain, which will feature a light and entertainment show every 20 minutes.
"Throughout the tour management pointed out small lessons that it learned from its past experiences, and how it wanted to improve on them," Kent said. "Perhaps one of the biggest lessons was to make customers pay to see the extraordinary attractions rather than getting to see them for free from the street or in their cars. The property has walls surrounding most of the excitement, so visitors will have to enter the hotel, go to a restaurant or bar and pay to see what's going on."
Falcone said he expects a strong public reaction to Wynn Las Vegas, which is designed to maximize guest comfort and convenience and also to minimize operating costs.
"The design and layout of the property is differentiated from existing Strip properties, including the rooms and suites, layout of the casino, the quality of restaurants and entertainment venues, and the flow of the property," Falcone said. "It is evident that management measured every detail in the planning process and we believe the layout will facilitate cost synergies."
Analysts said guests are expected to pay an average of $271 a night for a 600-square-foot standard hotel room, which is higher than previous estimates. Other rooms will have an increased rate, including $400 a night for one of the 45 junior suites, that measure 900 square feet, and $750 a night for the 1,800-square-foot Salon Suites.
In addition, Wynn Las Vegas will offer 18 fairway villas at $2,000 a night.
Bear Stearns analyst Joe Greff said the property has already sold out several dates, even though bookings began just a few weeks ago.
"Based on an apples-to-apples comparison of standard rooms, Wynn's rates would be very competitive and substantially below current luxury Strip offerings," Greff said. "We expect the number of sold-out nights will rise as the public awareness of the opening spreads."
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