|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Review-Journal|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 26, 2004 - Los Angeles financier Richard Alter once had designs on owning an upscale Strip resort.
But instead of purchasing any Las Vegas Boulevard address, Alter discovered a property where he could build a resort of the future, a little more than one mile east of Las Vegas Boulevard.
Alter and his partner spent $62 million in May to purchase Alexis Park, a nongaming hotel on Harmon Avenue. He acquired a property that not only needed some cosmetic enhancements, but also an optimistic transfusion of ownership.
After paying another $8 million for a neighboring 206-unit apartment complex, Alter put together the foundation for what he envisions as a 1,500-room resort complex that will include a 28-story hotel tower, a 60,000-square-foot casino, restaurants, a health spa and meeting space.
He plans to spend some $400 million to build his yet-to-be-named development by 2007.
For now, he is enhancing Alexis Park. The property is in the final stages of modernizing the exterior facade, interior public area and grounds. The furnishings in the resort's 500 suites are also being refreshed.
Alter will operate the hotel, now renamed Alexis Resort and Villas. He will also bring gaming to the hotel for the first time since it opened in 1984, adding 15 slot machines to the property's new lounge area, once he gains Nevada gaming authorities' approval.
"Our goal since 2001 has been to operate a Las Vegas resort," Alter said.
The global investment banking firm he manages, Financial Capital Investment Co., finished second to Planet Hollywood last year in bidding to purchase the bankrupt Aladdin.
"We were hoping to find a property with a tremendous location that had unmet potential," Alter said. "We found this with the Alexis Park. Our position (across Harmon Avenue from the trendy Hard Rock Hotel) makes this an ideal setting. In a few years, Harmon will have a lot of activity and seem much like a second Las Vegas Strip."
The Hard Rock Hotel has announced plans for a $1 billion, 1.5-million-square-foot hotel-condominium project adjacent to its current hotel-casino, and Alter said Alexis Resort would benefit from such an investment. He said his customer demographic wouldn't skew as young as the ultrahip Hard Rock crowd, although he does hope to attract patrons similar to the audience at the Green Valley Ranch.
"I really like that property and I believe what we built here will have that potential," he said.
Alter said the $400 million for his proposed complex will come from private funds he and his business partner, Eddy Chao, will put up, and bank loans. Chao is also his partner in Financial Capital Investment.
While completing plans for the proposed resort, noted architect Joel Bergman, whose resume includes The Mirage, Treasure Island and Paris Las Vegas, is designing the hotel tower and casino complex. Alter plans to not only run the Alexis Resort, but also to merge the complex into the new property as exclusive low-rise villas, similar to what once existed at many Strip properties in the 1970s.
Also, he'll serve as landlord for the apartment complex, where small units fetch an average monthly rent of $600 each. The complex's 10 acres will be the site for the planned hotel tower and casino space.
"While we go through the process to build our vision, we will manage the Alexis Resort as a luxurious location for the Las Vegas visitor," Alter said. "And we'll keep the apartment complex open for as long as we can before it is torn down to make way for the new resort."
Once an upscale all-suite property that, despite lacking a casino, attracted a high-end clientele, Alexis Park had fallen into disrepair. The hotel had once hosted numerous showroom celebrities who stayed there, hoping to avoid crowds, and were attracted by the property's lush environment and quiet nongaming atmosphere.
The resort also included the Pegasus Room, one of Las Vegas' first-ever four-star restaurants.
Years of neglect, however, took its toll.
The 375 Supper Club Lounge, a late-night dining and entertainment venue that opened earlier this month in the space once occupied by the Pegasus, is expected to include gaming. Alter said the property has applied for a restricted gaming license and has contracted with a route operator to manage the 15 games.
The move to add gaming marks a distinct change in the Alexis Resort operation. The casino in the proposed resort would probably include 1,500 slot machines and a large table-games area.
"Las Vegas has a wealth of qualified gaming personnel and I'm sure we'll find the perfect team to manage our casino," Alter said.
Current enhancements include painting the property's entire outside walls to a more vibrant Mediterranean theme of oranges and reds. Also, a new digital marquee facing Harmon Avenue will be added. Lobby upgrades will include an enhanced main entrance featuring an exterior glass wall supported by cables. And, the beds in the property's 500 suites are being replaced.
By the end of January, the original pool area is expected to reopen to feature a sand beach, cabanas, fire pits, a bar and fiber-optic lighting.
"The upgrades we are making will help infuse new life to the property," Alter said. "We have beautiful grounds here and we don't need to import any palm trees. We want to create a look that lets people know what we plan to bring in the future."
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