Busted flush: Las Vegas on a losing streak

Four years ago Las Vegas was the fastest-growing city in the US. Now it's America’s foreclosure capital

Las Vegas on a losing streak
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The distinctive sign of the Sahara hotel is dwarfed by the shining blue Fontainebleau, a $2.9 billion hotel and casino development that went bankrupt in 2009 Photo: Jane Hilton

Sitting in the poolside restaurant at the Trump International hotel in Las Vegas, my eye was taken by a saying by the inimitable 'Donald’ etched into a floor-to-ceiling mirror: 'As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.’

Opened in 2008, the Trump International stands back from Las Vegas Boulevard, the main thoroughfare known as the Strip. With its 1,250 rooms and 50 penthouse suites on 64 storeys, the Trump is far from being the largest of the steroid-pumped hotel resorts along the Strip – it does not even boast a casino – and yet, standing in its perfect isolation, its windows clad in 24ct gold, it resembles nothing so much as a huge shimmering tombstone, a metaphor for the near-death experience that Las Vegas, where 'thinking big’ is what they do, has gone through in recent years.

Beside the Trump Tower is a vacant lot that was once the site of the New Frontier hotel. Opened in 1942 – the second hotel to open on the Strip, and in Las Vegas terms a building of outstanding historical importance – the New Frontier was the scene of Elvis Presley’s first Las Vegas appearance in 1956, and was briefly owned by Howard Hughes. In 2007 it was imploded – in the traditional Las Vegas style – to make way for a new $8 billion luxury hotel, provisionally named the Las Vegas Plaza, which was originally scheduled to open in December 2011. But the developers, hamstrung by the financial paralysis that has engulfed the town, have yet to break ground.

Beside the deserted site stand the skeletal steel foundations of another mega-resort, the Echelon. This was once the site of another historic Vegas casino, the Stardust, which was blown up in 2007. Plans for the Echelon include five hotels, a convention centre and a shopping centre, but construction was halted in 2008 when the American economy went into chronic relapse. The project’s owners, Boyd Gaming, say it will take several years and a further $4.8 billion to complete. Work will not be resuming any day soon.

Across the street stands the uncompleted shining blue tower of the Fontainebleau, a $2.9 billion, 3,889-room, 68-storey hotel, condominium and casino development. Building halted in 2009 when the Fontainebleau became the largest commercial construction to go bankrupt in the US. The property eventually passed into the hands of the corporate raider Carl Icahn for a song; the local rumour is that he is waiting for the price of steel to rise, when the hotel will be imploded and sold for scrap.

 

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