Tuesday, May 7, 2002 | 11:12 a.m.
A Las Vegas developer has proposed a $50 million Hilton-branded hotel and casino on Sahara Avenue, just off the Las Vegas Strip.
The application will be considered at a Thursday meeting of the Las Vegas Planning Commission. Located on the north side of Sahara at Fairfield Avenue, the 200-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel would rise eight stories. A 40,000-square-foot casino would be attached to the east side of the property.
"This site is the gateway to the city," said developer and property owner Andrew Fonfa. "Everyone's real anxious for me to do something with this property. Hilton approached us, and thought it was a great site for one of their products."
Fonfa hopes to break ground by year's end, with completion in 15 months. Negotiations are under way with GE Capital Corp. to finance the project, and Fonfa said he's close to finalizing the financing package. Should demand develop as expected, an additional 100 to 200 rooms could be added, he said.
Hilton spokeswoman Kathy Shepard confirmed the hotel company's involvement, but said discussions were in the "very early, preliminary stages."
"It's a preliminary application," Shepard said. "We haven't come to any final agreement with them."
Fonfa, who has been primarily involved in the development of apartments, condominiums and smaller shopping centers, has owned the 5-acre parcel since 1987. Four small commercial buildings are located at the site, and would be torn down to make way for the hotel.
Fonfa said he'd originally planned to build a hotel property at the site when he bought it, anticipating the construction of the Excalibur at Sahara Avenue by Circus Circus Enterprises. The casino ended up miles away on Tropicana Avenue.
"Everything went south on me," Fonfa said. "Everything's moving toward this area now, and things at the north end (of the Strip) are starting to look like they will take off."
The most discussed north Strip project is Le Reve, Steve Wynn's proposed $1.65 billion resort casino at the Desert Inn site. But only one north Strip development is now under construction -- a $111 million, 295-unit timeshare tower near Circus Circus, set for completion in January 2004. This project is owned by Hilton's timeshare division, Hilton Grand Vacations.
Fonfa would own the hotel and casino, but said Hilton would manage the hotel. Hilton, which spun off its gaming division into Park Place Entertainment Corp. several years ago, would not be involved with the casino, he said.
"It would probably be more like a Barley's (a neighborhood casino in Henderson), with some tables, mostly slots, with several restaurants," Fonfa said. "We're talking with several casino operators interested in a lease."