|By Douglas Hanks, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 23, 2009 - --The Miami bankruptcy judge presiding over the Fontainebleau Las Vegas this week toured the unfinished casino tower.
He called it "a magnificent project" that fell victim to tragic timing.
"Unfortunately, if it had started three years ago or three years from now, it wouldn't be in this situation," Judge A. Jay Cristol said at a Thursday hearing to approve another $600,000 to fund the Vegas project's fifth month in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Aventura developer Jeffrey Soffer launched the Vegas Fontainebleau in 2007, in the middle of a $500 million renovation of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which he bought in 2005. After $2 billion was spent in construction funds, estimates peg the cost to finish the Fontainebleau Las Vegas at nearly $1.5 billion.
Soffer is trying to sell the Vegas tower to casino operator Penn National Gaming, which has offered "substantially" less than $300 million for the unfinished project, according to Soffer lawyer Scott Baena.
Baena said he hopes to present a final deal to Cristol next, clearing the way for an auction of the property. Cristol walked through the construction site Monday while in Las Vegas for a judicial conference, joined by about 40 lawyers and others involved in the case.
Thanks to the "worldwide economic situation," Cristol said, "we have a problem that unfortunately exists, which timing could have overcome. But no point in beating that horse."
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