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Resorts World, years in the making, could give north Strip a boost

Updated April 26, 2021 - 7:35 pm

When the Stardust opened in 1958, decades before its mob skimming inspired the Robert De Niro movie “Casino,” the 1,000-plus-room property was said to be the largest resort hotel in the world.

When the vastly larger Resorts World Las Vegas opens in two months on the Stardust’s former footprint, it won’t even have the most hotel rooms on the Strip.

Still, the flashy project is years in the making, and while its once-envisioned panda exhibit and replica Great Wall of China have vanished, the property’s delayed debut could give Southern Nevada another badly needed economic boost.

Resorts World bosses announced Monday that the $4.3 billion project is slated to open June 24. The hotel is massive by any measure, featuring 3,500 rooms, more than 40 food and beverage spots, 250,000 square feet of meeting space, 117,000 square feet of casino space, and more.

Of course, there’s no way to predict a project’s success or struggles, especially amid a pandemic that has caused so much turmoil and hardship. But as more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus and as daily life sort of returns to normal, Las Vegas has been getting a surge of tourists lately.

Resorts World could bring even more visitors to Las Vegas, something newly built projects have often done in America’s casino capital, and inject more commerce into the north Strip, something locals have long hoped for.

Big purchase, little action

The project is a long time coming. The developer, Malaysia’s Genting Group, bought 87 acres along Las Vegas Boulevard from Boyd Gaming Corp. in 2013 for $350 million, picking up not only a huge spread of land but also the bones of Boyd’s unfinished Echelon resort, a project that was supposed to replace the imploded Stardust but was mothballed in 2008 as the economy soured.

Las Vegas was limping out of the Great Recession at the time, but more than anything, Genting’s venture sparked hopes that the north edge of the Strip would wake up.

When it bought the land, the unfinished Fontainebleau was still in limbo, the former Sahara was closed and being transformed into the SLS Las Vegas, and huge tracts of empty land where massive projects failed to materialize only added to the area’s quiet, eerie feeling.

But the Resorts World site largely stayed quiet for years, with hardly any visible progress beyond what Boyd left behind. Its expected opening, initially penciled for 2016, kept getting pushed back, and in real estate circles it was all too common for people to ask, “What’s going on with Resorts World?”

Design changes

A former spokesman for Genting has said the company “spent a considerable amount of time perfecting” the resort’s design, and indeed, the project’s look and features have changed drastically.

Resorts World was envisioned early on to have multiple towers, a live panda exhibit, a replica of the Great Wall of China and an indoor water park, according to reports.

Those amenities are nowhere to be found on the hotel’s website or in its news releases, and the resort has two conjoined towers, not several of them spread around the site as once planned.

Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella, who joined the project in 2019, said in a statement Friday for this column that the original plans “have evolved over time” but will “pay homage to Genting Group’s roots with Asian-inspired touches throughout the design and amenities.”

He noted the owners are building on two-thirds of the site, with one-third being saved for “future development.”

“These plans have not been finalized at this time,” he added.

Still, Resorts World has plenty to offer on day one and is deploying star power to drum up excitement for its debut, rolling out a commercial with Celine Dion, Katy Perry and other musicians. Out on Las Vegas Boulevard, the hotel also gets plenty of eyeballs thanks to the 100,000-square-foot LED screen on its west tower.

Southern Nevada, like so many areas, has been through a terrible year, marked by illness, fear and staggering job losses. But in a few months, a hotel that was supposed to open five years ago could bring some financial stimulus of its own.

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

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