04/22/2005 12:00AM

Condo boom has city living larger

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The Manhattanization of Las Vegas has begun. No fewer than 70 proposed high-rise condominium buildings are on the drawing boards, and nine have broken ground.

Although the opening of Wynn Las Vegas on Thursday is sure to begin another wave of gaming mega-resorts on the Strip, the residential high rises are what are making this resort community a thriving metropolis.

Coming off a decade of unprecedented growth and appreciation, Las Vegas continues to be a boomtown. Many are asking where the money and people are coming from. The basic answer is - everywhere.

A new report on the high-rise phenomenon of Las Vegas was recently released by Deutsche Bank Securities. The report, entitled "Luxury condos: friend or foe?," focuses on the evolution of Las Vegas and the impact that high-rise condos will have on the core business of gaming and tourism.

The report indicates that the condo craze will be good for Las Vegas.

The condos will be either primary residences or second homes for those who can afford a piece of the Strip. The report estimates that 35 percent of the condos will be occupied by full-time residents, while 65 percent will be owned by those who have residences in other states or countries.

The report also indicated that the well-heeled, out-of-town owners of luxury condos would take advantage of their investments by visiting Las Vegas more often than the average of two times a year that hotel guests do. The report suggests that condo owners would come into town as many as 10 times a year. And, because Las Vegas is now much more than just a gaming resort, non-gaming attractions will benefit, since those owners visit more restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping outlets.

The next stage also brings in new developers with new money.

Donald Trump saw the condo revolution as a perfect way to finally enter the Las Vegas marketplace. He plans to construct Trump Towers just off the Strip, near the New Frontier. In its first three days of sales to the public, in December, Trump Towers accepted more than 700 reservations for condos that average just over $1,000 per square foot. After the sales reached 1000 units for the first tower, Trump announced his intent to build a second tower at the same location.

The MGM Mirage Center City will be the granddaddy of the high-rise revolution. Plans call for the first phase of an 18 million square foot mixed-use development to include a 4,000-room hotel, three boutique 400-room hotels, 550,000 square feet of retail space, and 1,650 luxury condominiums nestled between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio on the Strip.

An important element of the changing Las Vegas is shopping. In the next two years, four of the five largest enclosed malls will call Las Vegas home, each with over 1 million square feet of retail space.

The skyline of Las Vegas is rapidly changing. For example, this week starts with the groundbreaking of the first Hooters hotel and ends with the opening of the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show